October 8, 2006

Al Franken: God Spoke


Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): **½
In theaters now.

To me, Al Franken is like an uncle who has an amusing, if corny, sense of humor, whose politics you admire and agree with, and who often repeats himself to the point of tedium.

In many ways Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob's new documentary about, and starring, the comedian/author, Al Franken: God Spoke [official site], is a film in search of a story. But if one thinks of it as a character study framed by politics - and, obviously isn't a right-winger who has Franken on their public enemies list - then the doc is an entertaining, fitfully amusing watch.

Covering the affable Franken's book tour in the period leading up to the 2004 election, the film follows him from various public appearances while also tracking him behind the scenes. Highlights include a look at Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his tragic death 12 days before the 2002 election - and subsequent memorial service; Franken doing his Kissinger impression for Henry Kissinger, priceless; and a brief segment where Franken talks with a college audience, picking apart an obnoxious, egregious error from Fox News' Brit Hume about the Iraq War. While Franken's goading of bullying right wing TV host Bill O'Reilly has gathered much more publicity, I was more interested in Franken's rebuttals to Brit Hume. Whereas O'Reilly is so overtly an obnoxious clown who uses his pulpit to bludgeon people - but does anyone take him seriously? - Hume, as a "newscaster" but with the same propagandistic tendencies as O'Reilly, seems to be the more dangerous. The film would serve as a good double-feature with Outfoxed, Robert Greenwald's harder-hitting doc on Fox News. It's also interesting to see some of the clips of Franken figuring out the radio business with the new AirAmerica radio, while Fox's O'Reilly waits for him to fail, while a segment featuring Franken at a press conference with right-wing commentator Ann Coulter is particularly disturbing, mostly just to see what a nut - if an articulate nut - Coulter really is. Meanwhile, perhaps just as disturbingly, Fox News' Sean Hannity comes off as a bit more likable (even if I disagree with about everything that comes out of his mouth).

When the film focuses on Franken vs. the Fox-ians, and when it leads up to the 2004 Presidential election, and in particular when things go awry towards the end, it picks more natural dramatic momentum. It concludes with Franken debating whether or not to run for a Senate seat once occupied by Wellstone. And then... it ends, with a feeling of business left unfinished.

When it all adds up, God Spoke seems a bit of a sketchy, if entertaining, trifle. But it's still a worthy addition to other politically minded documentaries covering this extremely fractured period in American history, and as a character study of a passionate, rational voice from the left.

An interview with Hegedus and Doob appeared recently on GreenCine.

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Posted by cphillips at October 8, 2006 9:27 PM
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