In the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, Bruce (Jim Carrey) was a self-centered TV reporter frustrated with God (Morgan Freeman) over perceived mismanagement. God gave Bruce a chance to prove he could do better by temporarily granting him Almighty power; hilarity and some pretty decent theistic theology ensued. That film did not please everyone—it was too spiritual (Christian, really) for some mainstream viewers and too bawdy for some Christian viewers—but it still managed to entertain its way to considerable box office success.
Evan Almighty is Bruce Almighty's sort-of sequel. Director Tom Shadyac and screenplay writer Steve Oedekerk are back, as is Freeman. But Jim Carrey's Bruce is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell)—Bruce's scene-stealing news anchor rival from the first film—is the focus of God's (and the audience's) attention. When the film opens, Evan has just been elected congressman and is leaving the TV business and Buffalo behind to move his family to a new life in Virginia. He has a great wife, Joan (Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham), three handsome adolescent boys, a fabulous house (complete with kitchen cabinets harvested from the rainforest) and a Hummer in the driveway. Everything is going splendidly until God shows up and asks Evan to build an ark.
Evan, understandably, is reluctant to appear insane his first week on Capitol Hill, so he resists God's overtures. God, however, is rather persistent. The number 614 (as in Genesis 6:14) shows up everywhere. Pairs of animals begin following Evan to congressional meetings. The Go-4 Wood (pronounced Gopher Wood) Company keeps dropping off lumber at his front door. And despite his freakish attention to personal hygiene, Evan's hair and beard begin growing at alarming rates (like Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, only much, much worse). Evan's home and professional lives become very complicated. But God assures Evan, "Whatever I do, I do because I love you." Evan spends the rest of the movie finding out just what God means. And building an ark, of course.
Carell (The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is terrific as Evan. A less elastic but more Everyman presence than Carrey, he handles the physical comedy adeptly and gives the emotional scenes more poignancy than the script sometimes deserves. Freeman is once again the perfect choice as God, handling the Role of all Roles with understated grace. Lauren Graham is warm and likeable and does what she can with the slightly written part of Evan's wife Joan (yes, that would be Joan of Ark). And the film benefits greatly from the larger than life presence of screen vets like John Goodman (as a corrupt and powerful politician) and the hilarious Wanda Sykes (as one of Evan's incredulous aides).
Some reports have Evan Almighty pegged as the most expensive comedy ever produced (rumored at more than $200 million), and the special effects—while more Doctor Doolittle than King Kong—are generally impressive. The animal stuff is all great, and the building of the ark itself is pretty cool. However, the climactic scenes (not to give too much away, but they involve water) are uneven and a touch confusing.
Where Bruce Almighty was a PG-13 adult comedy with an occasionally dark or vulgar edge, Evan Almighty is an unabashedly wholesome family movie, mostly avoiding objectionable content. God's name is used in vain a few times (as in gasps of "Oh my G--"). There are also a few instances of animal poo/bathroom humor typical of Shadyac films (he is, after all, the director who gave the world Ace Ventura), and it is more distasteful for its lame-ness than its vulgarity. Thematically, the film is a bulls-eye for family viewing, and I am quite certain my kids, ages 8 and 5, are going to love it.
There's nothing too subtle about Evan Almighty. Particularly at the beginning of the film, writer Oedekerk paints his backdrop with some pretty broad strokes. Evan's vanity and superficiality (he begins each day with an elaborate grooming ritual and the mantra: "I'm successful, powerful, handsome, happy") and his ecological obliviousness are quickly sketched in. A scene in which he has to miss a family hike in order to work (why did he plan a family outing on his first day as congressman?) is a somewhat lazily placed clue that he has not always put his family first. But once the scenes are set, the film has a lot of genuine fun with its premise and manages to work in some moving and even profound moments.
Cynics will complain that Evan Almighty's sometimes haphazard grab bag of themes—ecological responsibility, family values, the importance of small acts of kindness—are an attempt to reach out to the wallets of both the religious right and the environmentally-sensitive left. But one of the movie's strengths is the connection it makes between obedience to the Creator and care for his creation. (How did those two concepts ever get divided along party lines?) Some Christians may feel that Freeman/God's claim that the original Noah flood account is really a love story underplays the problem of sin and the reality of God's wrath. But while Evan Almighty may over-simplify the original Deluge, there is no arguing with the idea that even God's harshest discipline is animated by his love. And the film's emphasis on offering small sacrifices of service in one's own home and community is very consistent with the Old Testament's definition of "righteousness" as placing the needs of the community over selfish agendas.
Evan Almighty is a little too silly and sometimes a little too sloppy to be considered a masterpiece. But the filmmakers have managed to make a truly entertaining film that invites viewers to contemplate the rather big idea that we're all "chosen" to be in relationship with—and obedient to—our Creator. (Evan's last encounter with the Almighty is one of the sweetest depictions of human/divine relationship I've seen, and will stay with me a long time.) Watch two or three other "Christian" movies and what's been accomplished here comes into sharper focus. Evan Almighty isn't perfect, but it is both inspired and inspiring. I can't wait to share it with my family.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- God/Freeman tells Joan that when people pray for patience, sometimes they get circumstances that allow them to develop patience, and when they pray for courage, sometimes they are given opportunities to be brave. Has that been your experience? Can you think of an instance when something you prayed for was answered in an unexpected way? Can you think of an area where that may be happening now?
- Read Genesis 8, paying special attention to the second half of verse 9. Given that biblical writers never wasted words, why do you think the action is slowed down for a special mention of Noah reaching out his hand and bringing the dove back to himself? What value does the Genesis flood story place on creation? What are the implications for us as stewards of the earth?
- Do you think this film portrays God's character accurately? Why or why not?
- God/Freeman says the Genesis flood story is ultimately a love story. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Evan says we are all "chosen" to do special things for God. Do you agree? What does that look like in your life?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Evan Almighty is rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril. God's name is used in vain a few times (primarily the "Oh my G--" variety), and there is almost no profanity (a few "almost" curses that get diverted at the last minute). There is no sexual or violent content, and only the mildest sense of peril. There is some bathroom and body part humor, mostly to do with animals. It is, for the most part, a wholesome, uplifting film that will appeal to most families.
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