|Conversations with God (2006)
Starring: Henry Czerny, Vilma Silva, Bruce Page, Abdul Salaam El Razzac
Director: Stephen Simmons
Since the publication of the first book in the “Conversations with God” series in 1996, author Neale Donald Walsch has become an industry unto himself, spinning off roughly twenty “Conversations”-themed publications, not to mention a series of successful speaking tours, the Humanity’s Team “spiritual movement,” and an acting career. Not bad for a guy who, by his own admission, was going absolutely nowhere before – and here’s where things get tricky – God struck up a personal conversation with him.
Yup. If you’re unfamiliar with the central idea behind Walsch’s books, it’s essentially that God is talking to everyone, all the time, and that Walsch just happened to have a pen and paper handy at the right moment. According to Walsch, the “Conversations” series was penned via something like automatic writing; he’d jot down a question for God, and the answer would flow through his hand.
Clearly, for many people, some suspension of disbelief is required at this point, and that’s not even getting into the finer points of Walsch’s theology. Suffice it to say that there’s an interesting story to be told here. Whether you take Walsch at his spiritual word or not, the journey from dumpster-diving homeless man to millionaire author is the kind of inspirational, only-in-America tale of which moviegoers never seem to tire.
It’s also, unfortunately, a genre whose films seem to succumb to rank hackery an alarmingly high percentage of the time, and “Conversations with God,” the movie, is no exception. This is a motion picture so clumsily assembled that you can’t help hoping there’s been a mistake – that perhaps what you’re seeing is an early cut stolen by a vindictive crew member and somehow passed off as a theatrical release – but such hopes are in vain.
There are a lot of problems with this movie, but the biggest might be that Walsch – who has painted his pre-“Conversations” self as sort of a bastard – is rarely presented in less than a flattering light. Matter of fact, he’s damn near beatific even at his lowest point. As a character, his greatest evolution seems to be sartorial; he goes from all-around nice guy in dirty denim to all-around nice guy in wool and tweed. Worse, though Walsch continually hints at a lifetime of grave mistakes, none of the stuff you see happening to him is his fault – he’s in a car accident and winds up in a neck brace, no one will hire him because he’s overqualified, so on and so forth. His stoicism makes Job look like an amateur, and as a result, he’s robbed of the Everyman quality that has made him such an appealing spiritual guru.
If this was “Conversations’”only flaw, there might still be an interesting film somewhere in here, but it’s got plenty of company. The cinematography has all the flair and depth of your average episode of “Yes, Dear”; the score is a giggle-inducing juggernaut of obviousness; Eric DelaBarre’s script contains virtually no believable dialogue; and Stephen Simons’ direction carries the strong odor of bacon. The movie is riddled with slow, ponderous montages, inexplicable slow-motion sequences, and unbelievably broad acting from assorted supporting players.
If the film has a saving grace, it’s Abdul Salaam El Razzac’s tiny role as one of Walsch’s homeless buddies. He’s literally the only actor in the entire movie who manages to escape unscathed. You can see the others trying – it’s heartbreaking watching Henry Czerny, as Walsch, try to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear he’s been handed – but to no avail.
Some hardcore Walschians will no doubt lap this up – it’s loaded with the kind of unquestioning hagiography that devotees look for in an alleged biopic – but as a film, it fails on every conceivable level. This is the kind of thing you expect to see in the middle of the night on Lifetime or PAX, not in your local theater; if you feel you really must see it, wait the few months (or weeks) it’ll take to reach home video.