Directed by Tom Shadyac
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.
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?
Anna Waterhouse is a Malibu, California-based screenwriter of feature films and documentaries for both the large and small screens.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also appearing on our site today:
Film Forum: Fish Tale Fin-tastic, but How Mighty Is Bruce? | Religious film critics look at Finding Nemo, Bruce Almighty, The In-Laws, The Matrix Reloaded, Daddy Day Care, and The Dancer Upstairs.
A sample of mainstream critical opinions of Bruce Almighty is available at RottenTomatoes.com.
Other articles about Bruce Almighty and director Tom Shadyac include:
God is found everywhere, except on the silver screen—Los Angeles Times (May 27, 2003)
God's movie career shifts to increasingly screwy comedies—Associated Press (May 26, 2003)
What if God was one of us?—San Bernardino County Sun(May 22, 2003)
An interview with Jim Carrey and Tom Shadyac—CountingDown.com
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