“Sometimes promising, but more often dull, occasionally excruciating, and once in a while morally reprehensible.”
by Ken B.
Note: This review was suggested my multiple readers, all of whom I know in real life. I don’t know how to feel about this.
Another Note: To any readers stumbling across this site for the first time who may have the urge to write angry comments or type hate mail into the contact form using insults to anything along the lines of me being a sad communistic atheist who went into this film knowing he would hate it, I should tell you that none of that is true.
I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. God’s Not Dead is a movie that could have been quite good, where two opposing forces debate their beliefs with equal mighty fervor and challenge audiences on both sides, but it is not. It is sometimes promising, but more often dull, occasionally excruciating, and once in a while morally reprehensible. And it’s also incredibly thinly written. But yet it was successful. Why? 2014 has been quite a banner year for widely accessible American films with a Christian viewpoint, a usually underrepresented demographic of filmmaking. And, regardless of its quality as a piece of art, many viewers have endlessly promoted them all. I’m going to only half-jokingly coin a term encompassing reactions described by, among other people, a film critic named Alonso Duralde on a podcast. Many have said it, but how can we make it one phrase? I’ll try: Underrepresentation Appraisal Bias.
Or UAB, for short. Basically, whenever there’s an under-served demographic for movies, each entry will be discussed to the rooftops, as there are few alternatives. Usually, this is visible historically through racial minority or LGBT-themed movies, where the few movies to that audience early in that era were praised, regardless of the quality of the art. Now that society has begun to equalize, that doesn’t happen as much. Well, by no means are Christians an oppressed minority group in the U.S. by any stretch, but there aren’t too many movies targeted specifically for Christians. So this one comes along, and it’s a widely seen film that seemingly serves its purpose. But standing back, I can’t envision how this mess must have come together. Pardon me as I use the rest of my review space to try and imagine a conversation studio executives must have (probably not) had. Cast names are introduced here, but do not play a part in the characters’ dialogue:
Studio Executive 1: “OK, guys, I have a good script here. This is one about an atheist philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo) who makes every class sign a paper saying ‘God is dead’. But one Christian student (Shane Harper), refuses to, and they debate over a handful of classes. It’s promising, but a little wordy.”
Studio Executive 2: “I just got one about a workaholic blogger (Trisha LaFache) who ambushes famous Christian pop culture figures, like that band Newsboys and one of the guys from Duck Dynasty, and interviews them with loaded questions. She gets cancer, her life starts falling apart, and she questions her beliefs.”
Studio Executive 3: “Guys, I think I have the best one. It’s about a Muslim girl (Hadeel Sittu) who has a devout father (Marco Khan). She wants to convert to Christianity, but that’s out of the question, but she’ll try to, with the help of a local pastor (David A.R. White).”
A fourth studio executive runs into the room.
Studio Executive 4: “I have bad news! I just checked our income and we’re down sixty percent!”
Studio Executive 1: “Sixty percent? We can’t make all three of these movies!”
Studio Executive 2: “I have an idea. All of these screenplays are faith-based, right? Well, what if we combine them? There have been movies about a bunch of different plots that come together, and people liked those! So if we take all of these plots, shorten them out, and connect them all together? Make it nuanced. Make it interlocked. Make it beautiful. Make millions. How much money do we have for a writer to do that?”
Studio Executive 4 writes a number on a piece of paper. The blood runs out of Studio Executive 2’s face.
Studio Executive 2: “Well, as I was saying, what if we take all of these plots, shorten them out, and smash them all together haphazardly?”
Studio Executive 1: “W-wait, we’ll still have time for the debates between the kid and the professor, right?”
Studio Executive 2: “Yeah, but they’ll be short and not nearly as long or wordy or, um, what’s the word?”
Studio Executive 1: “Compelling?”
Studio Executive 2: “Right. That’s it. It’ll have to be significantly less compelling. We don’t have three hours here. And in my script, the blogger is one note and surrounded by one note, emotionless people. We might have to do that to the professor character in your script – take out anything hinting that anyone in this movie, Christian or Atheist or otherwise, is anything else than a series of caricatures. They may not have any depth at all but as long as the story wraps it up no one should care, right? Right? (To executive 3) Oh, and we’re not gonna have all the time in the world, see, so we’re going to have to show the Muslim dad is terrible very quickly. What if we have him slap his daughter and kick her out of the house? And show that the only thing that character is definable by is anger because, you know, reasons?”
Studio Executive 3: “I think you might be stretching the bounds of good taste there. That would be unfair and – ”
Studio Executive 2: “OK, we’ll have him cry on the stairs for two seconds after kicking her out, but that’s pushing it for time, so we’ll never probably never mention him again for the rest of the movie. And don’t worry, we won’t abandon the extra stuff completely. We’ll add a shred of each of all those ‘good ideas’ to the end of every scene. Just a teaser, if you will. Except those movies don’t exist.”
Studio Executive 4: “Wait, how will everything tie together in the end?”
Studio Executive 2: “Uh… um… I got it! It’s perfect!”
Studio Executive 3: “That took three seconds. Did you really think that through?”
Studio Executive 2: “Yeah… no. But they’ll make it work in rewrites. I think. Let’s get to work, fellas!”
Studio Executive 4: “This could make some serious money. But maybe it could get some bad notices from critics – they could get creative. What if some random reviewer in New Jersey wrote a 1,000 word article imagining this conversation?”
Studio Executive 2: “If he wastes all that time, let him. I don’t care what the critics say, but if anything, I’m worried about the more established reviewers on their Letterboxds that might say it all in under ten.”
And if you’ve ignored all that, Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray
DIRECTED BY HAROLD CRONK WRITTEN BY CHUCK KONZELMAN & CARY SOLOMON, BASED ON A STORY BY KOZELMAN, SOLOMON, AND HUNTER DENNIS STARRING SHANE HARPER AND KEVIN SORBO 113 MINUTES RATED PG
5 thoughts on “God’s Not Dead”
In the spirit of full disclosure, let me start by saying I am a pastor.
So here’s my problem with “God’s Not Dead.” It’s very… well pretty much everything you said. I wanted it to work I really did. I think it has a good message at its core, and it works OK as a youth-centric Christian film, you know, like something you’d show to a Christian youth group. By the way, we’re screening it at one of my churches. For youth.
It raises some good points, though. College is a place where shallow Christianity goes to die. I know, I work at one, I attended a few, the postmodern worldview is incessant and beats Christianity like a bad puppy that peed on the carpet. So the whole angry philosophy professor, I believe it. I’ve seen it up close. I know his real name. He works here. BUT… where I draw the line is (spoiler alert) Nah I’m not going there but you know what I’m talking about, the climactic scene where all the loose ends are tied together in a big bow just in time for Christmas. It was too, tidy. Too neat. Too unrealistic. I have seen some major, and I mean major conversions in my day. Heck, I’ve been one. But… no.
Anyway, I wanted to love this film. I think it’s OK as an after school special, not as a feature film. But it’s pretty much stock and trade with what a lot of Christian-themed production companies are churning out these days. According to the latest census, 85% of the U.S. population claims to be Christian. If only half of those people go see a movie out of, I don’t know, church guilt or something, that’s still a staggering 125 million people. I know that nowhere near that many went to see this one, but that’s what these execs think. And they make movies to make money so they can make more movies in the same vein. Self-sustaining mass-evangelism, if you will.
But overall I think your review is completely fair.
The last 15 minutes of this movie nearly constantly verge on the line of self-parody.
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