Rated PG-13 . Running time: 1 hour 41 min.
Our content rating: Violence 1; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said:
‘Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said,
‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it, or light shine on it.
It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Have you ever been driving or engaged in some other demanding task, only to be upset by someone’s criticisms, so that you erupted, “Here, you try this if you think you can do better!”? That’s how director Tom Shadyac’s film depicts God acting in this worthy successor to 1977’s Oh God! George Burns has gone on to meet the One whom he portrayed, so Morgan Freeman is the next best choice to depict the Creator (only, perhaps, if we except Meryl Streep). God is fed up with the whiny, self-centered prayers of Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey)—and who wouldn’t be? The man is a familiar and popular personality on Buffalo’s Channel 7, from which he is dispatched to cover local human interest stories. He has Grace (Jennifer Aniston), a live-in lover, a nice car, and plenty of clothes. However, Bruce wants more. He lusts for the anchor spot that is about to be vacated when the current anchorman retires. There is another candidate for the position, but Bruce is certain that he is more qualified than his smooth competitor.
However, while covering a story aboard the Maid of the Mist, whose owners are celebrating its anniversary of a hundred years of transporting tourists to the base of Niagara Falls, Bruce learns that his rival has won the anchor spot. He throws a spiteful tantrum right on the air, uttering the forbidden “f” word, and of course loses his job. A series of other mishaps makes him think he’s as bad off as Job. Thus he angrily declares that God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and “I’m the ant! I AM NOT OKAY WITH A MEDIOCRE LIFE!” He asks God to give him a sign. Just as he prays for a miracle he crashes his car, whereupon he throws away the prayer beads that Grace had given him. “ANSWER ME!” he demands. His beeper signals a call, but when he sees that the number calling is unfamiliar, he refuses it. The next morning the beeper signals him again. Same number. He throws the beeper out the window. He is finished with God, but God is not finished with him.
Finally, convinced by a series of unlikely events, that he should pay attention to the beeper and the message to keep an appointment at a building, Bruce goes to the old manufacturing/warehouse section of Buffalo to meet the caller. He turns out to be an older African American man clad in overalls. Bruce refuses to believe the man’s claim that he is God, as well as his invitation to join him in mopping the floor of the huge room. Removing the janitor overalls, the man emerges in an all white suit. Only when there is an incredible experience with a filing cabinet that has a drawer so long that it propels Bruce clear across the room and almost out the window does the skeptic accept the man’s claim.
God tells Bruce that he has heard his complaints and has decided to turn over to him for a period of time his almighty powers to see if he can do any better. There are two rules for this: “One, You can’t tell anybody you’re God, and Two, You can’t mess with free will.” The ecstatic Bruce exclaims “I’ve got the power!” Yes, Bruce Almighty does, and now the question arises, “How will this guy, whose concept of God and faith is less than a ten year-old’s, use the power?”
Not well, we soon see. Bruce causes his rival to lose control of his power of speech on the Evening News, and immediately he is called to replace him. He creates a romantic night scene to spend with Grace by pulling the moon closer to earth so that it seems to hover above them. But when she thinks he is about to propose marriage, his big news centers on himself—he tells her that he’s won the anchor position. In the morning a TV set in the background carries a news report of vast upheavals and destruction caused by unnatural tides in the Orient. We understand what Bruce misses, that re-arranging the natural order for one’s personal benefit can be disastrous for others. Bruce discovers, to his dismay, that God-like powers include being the recipient of prayers from the desperate, trivial and significant. He feels overwhelmed by the Babel of voices that only he can hear, sending forth their petitions. In desperation he decides to say “Yes” to all of them. Not a great idea! When a week has gone by, and God stops by to check on him, he asks Bruce, “How many people have you helped?”
Bruce tries to cast a spell over Grace: “Love me, love me,” he urges. Upset by his strange behavior over the past several days, she replies disconcertingly, “I did.” The world outside the TV studio goes awry. Rioting breaks out in the streets because everyone who has prayed to win the lottery is a winner, which means each person wins less than $20. Everything seems to be falling apart for the now successful Anchorman Bruce Nolan, worst of all his losing Grace.
Bruce returns to the building to keep a seven o’clock appointment with the Deity. His conversation with God; his acceptance of an invitation he had earlier refused; and a calamitous encounter with a truck–all reveal a wiser, more loving Bruce, what the apostle Paul might recognize as “a new man in Christ,” even though no specifically Christian language has been employed in the film. The script by Steve Oedekerk, Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe might not be overtly Christian, but it is certainly based on Judaeo-Christian insights and values. The film is far better than I had anticipated (yes, there are some vulgarisms and such that junior highs enjoy), one that can generate hours of thought and reflection for church leaders and their youth and adults.
Reprinted from the June 2003 VP, which has a set of discussion questions.