Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) sees his life as mediocre. Self-involved and immature, he loves his longtime girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), but has never gotten around to proposing. His job as a tv reporter in Buffalo, New York, doesn't satisfy him. When he is denied the only thing he truly covets, an anchor spot, his simmering discontent boils over. Bruce accuses God of being negligent, even sadistic.

That's when God (Morgan Freeman) challenges Bruce to do better. And so Bruce Nolan becomes God for a time—only to discover that omnipotence ain't all it's cracked up to be.

I went to this screening with some trepidation. Although Jim Carrey is undeniably gifted, a commercial impetus tends to move his sort of talent beyond farce into caricature—not within my comedic tastes.

But Carrey won me over with his puppyish eagerness to please. He manages to be at once a consummate performer and all heart. Maybe the film works because the concept Carrey is trying to get across is larger than his larger-than-life persona. Or maybe it's his strong desire to have us truly listen, so certain is he that if we pay attention, we'll come away with a grain of truth. Or it could be that when someone writes a love note to Yahweh and wants so badly to share it, it's hard to turn away.

Make no mistake: Bruce Almighty is Judeo-Christian to its bones. Even a gift of prayer beads from Bruce's girlfriend can't quite bestow on the film that glossy "all religions are one" hue. After all, with God the Father represented by the venerable Morgan Freeman; with grace embodied by the all-loving, all-forgiving, faithful-to-the-end girlfriend; and with the Holy Spirit writing on the cardboard placards of a homeless man, it would be tough to argue that the film's foundation is skewed.

Granted, there is no ultimate sacrifice here, and therefore no true redemption. But that's not the story Bruce Almighty is trying to tell. The film is more a primer on God's existence and his active presence in our lives. Before it's done, Bruce discovers that God is not only loving—he's as close as our breath, and we are his feet, hands, and heart.

Yes, there are flaws. Carrey is such a bouncy, hyperactive soul that it's impossible to think of him as a malcontent. It is like trying to imagine Tigger as dyspeptic. So the premise—a dissatisfied guy on whom falls the proverbial last straw—loses something in the translation. But if we can buy the notion that all of us, at one time or other, were angry enough at God to scream and yell and throw a hissy fit, the rest falls neatly into place.

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Yes, there's "language." But these characters simply speak the way most people speak, and most people will find them real and sympathetic.

Less easily brushed aside is the sexual relationship between Bruce and Grace "without benefit of clergy." Director Tom Shadyac, a Christian, defends this choice by underlining that, while Grace longs for marriage, Bruce has yet to grow up.

"I think when you get married you have to appreciate your life and the partner you're with," Shadyac said at a press briefing. "And Bruce wasn't mature enough yet. That's why the movie ended up [with the characters finally getting engaged]."

The creative basis for this is understandable, and one could even stretch the point—often "grace" wants a more intimate relationship with us than we are prepared to give, and the more we learn about ourselves and God, the easier this ultimate union becomes. But it's also disingenuous to insist that the two leads are not role models. Their attractiveness and popular appeal, especially to a young audience, belies that.

What else? At first, Bruce experiments with his godly powers in juvenile ways. There's some gross-out humor that thankfully manages to be more verbal than visual and will probably delight the kids without offending the adults too much. Truth is, were most of us granted godly powers for even a minute, the ensuing chaos would be far from humorous. The screenwriters do an admirable job of showing a human being's ineptitude with omnipotence while keeping the tone light.

Is Bruce Almighty for everyone? Not for kids under 12. They'd get the parts you wouldn't want them to get and miss the rest. And, strictly speaking, it wasn't written for Christians, since anyone with a genuine relationship with God would already know the material. But who says that being reminded can't be fun?

Note: For full-length Bible studies on Bruce Almighty, click here.

Anna Waterhouse is a Malibu, California-based screenwriter of feature films and documentaries for both the large and small screens.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 05/29/03

If you've seem Jim Carrey in the commercials for Bruce Almighty, you know that he plays a character who makes some self-centered choices when granted the mantle of omnipotence. In fact, due to the highly publicized, crass antics of this meddling man-deity, many Christian viewers have probably prayed for a box office disaster.

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But there's more to the movie than a madman with a "god complex."

In fact, Bruce Almighty was directed by Tom Shadyac, a professing Christian who brought us Patch Adams and Dragonfly. The film focuses on how Bruce Nolan, a shallow and selfish man, learns to get past his adolescent desires and become more godly. God (played with dignity and authority by Morgan Freeman) is revealed as a deity who knows full well that giving temporary control to Bruce will be enough to humble and change him. Thus, several Christian film critics are urging viewers not to judge Shadyac's new comedy too hastily.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls Bruce "a wildly funny film … the funniest film of the year thus far."

Elliott offers reassurance to suspicious moviegoers: "Bruce Almighty is very respectful of God and the relationship between God and man. Many Christians will opt not to see this film because of [objectionable] elements and that is certainly understandable. But it is a pity because the spiritual messages being delivered by the film are ones which Christians will especially recognize and support."

Steven Greydanus (Decent Films) also gives the film a pass, but begrudges it a few missteps. "It takes seriously the idea of surrendering to God's will. It depicts prayer as commendable, while debunking self-centered prayers. It also critiques the sort of passive fatalism that sits around blaming God rather than taking action to change things. Yet the movie goes to the opposite extreme from passive fatalism by suggesting that we need to look to ourselves and not to God. Bruce Almighty argues that we can't be God, but it doesn't seem to understand how we need God."

He adds: "In addition to its theological faults, Bruce Almighty isn't very funny or creative."

Jamey Bennett (Razormouth) is surprised by the theological content of the film. "In a culture inundated by MTV, SpongeBob Squarepants, and Frappuccinos, Bruce Almighty is the closest thing to a systematic theology that most will ever lay eyes upon. Hopefully, the bits of truth in this irreverent comedy will not go unnoticed by moviegoers, and hopefully the Church will not forget to have better answers for the fewquestions that this movie has raised."

Anna Waterhouse reviewed Bruce for Christianity Today. "The film is a primer on God's existence and his active presence in our lives," Waterhouse wrote. "Before it's done, Bruce discovers that God is not only loving—he's as close as our breath, and we are his feet, hands, and heart."

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Watching the film with younger viewers in mind, Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) observes that the film seems spiritually "ambiguous." "Such ambiguity isn't necessarily a reason to avoid watching Bruce Almighty with teens. On the contrary, it could stimulate great discussion. What will deter many families from seeing this movie are its coarse jokes, foul language, and sexual situations. Why did the filmmakers feel the need to go there? That material undermines what is otherwise a very funny, sweet, and profound comedy that awakens viewers to the fundamental existence of God and our need to serve one another."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Carrey is the weak link in an otherwise entertaining film. He is so concerned with doing his patented rubber-faced routine—a shtick that is quickly growing stale—that he never fully surrenders to the role."

But is the film too irreverent? DiCerto decides, "Beneath its irreverent facade the film addresses faith issues with an unfeigned sincerity and seriousness. That's rare in an industry which, at best, treats expressions of faith as window dressing."

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) argues that Carrey is "in fine form", and assures readers that "The movie will elicit some genuine laughs, even as it plays some sentimental notes. Some viewers may find the premise sacrilegious, but those who don't will think a little and laugh a lot."

Bobby Kim (Relevant Magazine) also approves: "Although fronting as a classic Carrey funfest, Bruce Almighty's spiritual undertones are jarringly poignant and substantial.

Megan Basham (Christian Spotlight) writes, "Despite the precarious undertaking of trying to paint a picture of God using limited human minds and limited human actors, the team behind this film manages to capture some of the Lord's compelling attributes as revealed through Scripture." But then she expresses dismay at some of the crass comedy in the film, and says she is not satisfied with the justifications provided by the director in her interview with him.

But she concludes, "Like Paul with the Greeks, movies concerning God and his role in our lives give Christ's followers an opportunity to address the world on its own terms and say, 'You know that God that remains unnamed in this film? Well, I do know his name. It's Jesus, and I'd like to tell you about him.'"

David Bruce, (Hollywood Jesus) interviewed Shadyac. He asks the director how a professing Christian could make a movie about a guy who lives with his girlfriend. Shadyac replies, "If people will not go to see Bruce Almighty, then (they) shouldn't pick up Confessions by Saint Augustine. Because he lived a very worldly life—with all the trappings of the world. And look a St. Paul. Don't read St. Paul, please. He killed Christians. He didn't just sleep with someone before marriage. He killed Christians. Don't look at St. Paul. We could go down the list—of everyone (in the Bible) that these families admire, and yet these people will hold Hollywood to a different standard."

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Movieguide's critic, however, says Christians should not see Almighty because of its "unscrubbed" and objectionable content. But he argues that there is just enough theological emphasis that "a select few of the lost and frustrated masses who are desperately searching to know the love of the One True God … may find something to set them on a better, more spiritually correct path."

Dick Staub's Culture Watch reports, "The crudities and juvenile humor in the film distract from the essential goodness of it's messages: of God's love, the importance of gratitude, the need to find out who God has uniquely created you to be, and to 'be a miracle' by doing your part."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) thinks the film is worthwhile despite is objectionable aspects: "Although you may not approve of all the questionable elements that are in this movie or support the way the story is told, this movie does have the potential to reach people who would never step inside a church, listen to Christian radio or watch Christian television. It will leave you thinking about the spiritual elements long after you've left the theater."

Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says, "Even devout moviegoers should acknowledge the good intentions of this clever comedy. Compared to the solemn silliness and pagan pomposity of the over-praised The Matrix Reloaded, Carrey's Bruce looks like a work of unexpected theological integrity."

Most mainstream critics admit that there are some hilarious sequences, but they are nevertheless somewhat disappointed by the comedy. You can scan their reviews here.

from Film Forum, 06/05/03

The week's second most popular film caused a curious phenomenon: a flood of phone calls to God.

Nevertheless, there is still some grumbling amongst Christian moviegoers about the new Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty because it portrays a hero displaying disrespect for God's power. Further, he swears, he lives with his girlfriend, and behaves rather recklessly in other ways.

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But some Christian film critics are defending the film against such flack.

Frederick Davis (Hollywood Jesus) says, "I expected it to make me very angry." But the finished product surprised him. "Some complain that this film doesn't clearly present the Gospel of Jesus, and that's true, it doesn't. But it does focus on man's weakness in contrast with God's wisdom and love. In fact, Bruce ultimately realizes that true love for someone else comes only through seeing him or her through God's eyes. God, as presented in this film, is loving, wise, graceful, and yes, holy."

The same page offers an in-depth interview with director Tom Shadyac, who defends the main character. "We don't start with perfect people in movies," he argues. "We start with imperfect people, and then they have to go on a journey. Let's read the Bible and see how many people cohabitated and did imperfect things. There is shadow in the movie, and the shadow helps the light. So we are not espousing any life style. We are not telling people, 'Now this is how to live!' We were telling a story."

from Film Forum, 06/26/03

Sister Rose Pacatte (The Tidings) reviews Bruce Almighty. She argues, "for all its potential minus points, the scale tips to the plus side because it is a positive—and entertaining—witness to the attributes of God, who is present to creation and who cares about humanity. Morgan Freeman as God is believable and an excellent casting choice that invites reverence and faith, even when 'God' laughs at our human foibles."

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Movie Discussion Guide related to this movie is available at Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.

Our Rating
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Average Rating
(18 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Directed By
Tom Shadyac
Run Time
1 hour 41 minutes
Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman
Theatre Release
May 23, 2003
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