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Conversations with God
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by Todd LaPlace

"Even the filmmakers would rather you buy the book."
2 stars

As you’ll see if you read on, I’m well aware that I’m not exactly the target audience for “Conversations with God,” a Christian spiritual about a homeless man-turned-author thanks to a series of divine chats. But like every movie I review, I tried to approach the film with an open mind. I knew it wasn’t going to work out though when a destitute Neale Walsch attempts to set up camp in the rain and God arrived to help Walsch pitch a tent. My mind immediately went to the priceless unintentional double entendre to something dirty. I think I’m going to hell now, but it still ain’t gonna make me recommend mediocre manipulative movie.

I first met my friend Joy in our middle school science class when we bonded over our middle names (yeah, we were pretty simple back then). In the subsequent 10 or so years, I’ve always been in awe of her. She’s a cute Korean girl that’s in her fourth year of med school and she may honestly be the smartest and most gifted person I’ve ever met — seriously, she’s a genius and can play virtually any song on the piano. Not to mention she’s got a kickass trampoline in her backyard. So why do I mention this, you might be wondering? On my 20th birthday, she gave me a book called “He Chose the Nails,” which is all about reading the gifts inherent in the nails, the crown of thorns, the soldier’s spit and the torn flesh of Jesus, and it is a book that against all odds, remains in my collection. Sharing the same shelf is “Letters from a Nut,” “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs,” a series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” novels, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and a true crime book on the Zodiac serial killings.

Based on my book collection, I have a feeling that I’m not meant to be the core audience for “Conversations with God,” a film based on the life of author Neale Donald Walsch, the man behind nine God-centered books including the title book. Now, I enjoy Kirk Cameron and “Flood” by Jars of Clay as much as the next guy, but I’ve never quite understood the multimillion dollar market of Christian pop culture. I don’t understand why so many people were eager to be Left Behind and it’s so difficult not to mock those Worship Together albums advertised on late night TV. At this point, I think it’s also redundant to say that I’ve neither read “Conversations with God” nor any of its successors, but I can appreciate the message that nearly all of these media are trying to convey. In this time of strife, that whole be nice to people, roll with the punches, it all happens for a reason mantra can be oddly comforting to those who need it (although that whole intolerance thing could still use a little work). As long as Walsch is spreading loving, nonviolent hope, I say more power to him.

But those grander notions of spirituality are completely irrelevant here. What ultimately is relevant is that “Conversations with God,” for all of its shine, polish and “sunshine and rainbows” attitude, is largely a piece of mediocre evangelical fluff, but in this case, money is supreme and the picture is proselytizing hard for Putnam Books. The film claims to be about Walsch, a man without a median, who went from homeless poverty to celebrated author practically overnight, but the film strictly limits itself to those two areas of his life. Before his big societal decent, Walsch apparently racked up quite the collection of ex-wives and children, but I’ve yet to discover a number and the film isn’t about to spill. It’s noble that Walsch doesn’t want to invade their privacy by associating them with his problems, but it gives the film an incomplete picture of his life, meaning the film clearly can’t claim to be about him.

Instead, we’re supposed to follow Walsch (played by a stiff Henry Czerny, AKA Kittridge from “Mission: Impossible”) as he martyrs himself for international success. After losing several radio DJ jobs due to corporate downsizing and breaking his neck in a car accident, Walsch discovers that no one will hire him and he simply can’t pay the rent, leaving him to find sanctuary on the streets. He eventually becomes part of a makeshift shantytown in a local park, although his pride never quite lets him accept being a part of his environment. While his quick fall from grace is interesting to watch, it’s when he’s at his lowest that the film starts getting manipulative. During his time at the bottom, Walsch is subjected to humiliation and degradation daily. An elderly woman has to pay for his meager groceries. People avoid eye contact as he walks down the street. Potential employers handily turn him away, even ones hiring for thankless grunt positions. He weeps after his first Dumpster dive. Everything is designed to make Walsch look that much better when he eventually does find a way out. The successful Walsch isn’t a stuck-up author; he’s just a regular guy. Why else would he stoop so low as to converse with the janitor at one of his television interviews? He’s so humble that he’s not, you know, a complete jackass. It’s nice, but hardly as noble as the film wants us to believe.

The film isn’t about portraying reality; it’s about selling us a story that will help sell more books. Screenwriter Eric DelaBarre — whose last movie is about police detectives on Venice Beach — may have churned out a pretty hack script, but I think the real people behind this full-length infomercial are Walsch and director Stephen Simon. Having already worked together on the Christian film “Indigo,” it’s pretty safe to say that both win if the “Conversations with God” title continues to grow. If the film can sell audiences on the books and the books can sell readers on the film, both stand to continue their careers, which is probably why the second half of the film is all about the writing and selling of “Conversations with God” to Putnam Books.

Having secured himself a weekend DJ position (suggested to be thanks to divine intervention), Walsch starts to climb his way back into mainstream society. But when the radio station goes bankrupt, Walsch is pretty much back to square one. That’s when Walsch starts talking to Him (with the capital H) and the film swiftly crumbles into absurdity. After all, how does one film a man having a conversation in his own head? Simon chose to show Walsch waking at 4:30 each morning to scribble furiously on yellow legal pads while a voice-over prattled off his spiritual self-help gibberish; his extremely long-winded spiritual self-help gibberish. I’m sure the devout will eat this stuff up, but I find it hard to believe that “Conversations” will cause any conversions. But then again, maybe I’m misguided, and if so, I’ve got some legal pads handy, just in case.

I know I’ve been flippant and sarcastic with regards to this movie, but honestly, is this really the best the religious filmmakers have to offer? There have to be some good Christian movies out there, but this certainly isn’t one of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15451&reviewer=401
originally posted: 11/02/06 18:00:28
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User Comments

1/29/09 Matt NEW AGE, not Christian. Sure it sucked, but at least get your crazy religions right. 2 stars
8/17/07 STEVEN SEQUEIRA Making a Life more than making a living ,if you got that during the movie, that is enough! 3 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Stale, pandering rags-to-riches tale serves only to exploit religious crowds out of more $. 1 stars
10/28/06 Karen Fitzgerald I saw it...loved it...a true story with heart...yeah to Stephen Simon and his crew. 5 stars
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  27-Oct-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



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