Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Answer Man

If someone publishes a book in which he or she claims to have heard directly from God, who gave terrific answers to many of life's big questions, he might sell a bunch of copies, but I think it would eventually be drowned out by the competing claims of other sages and religious perspectives.  That's in real life.  In movie life, Arlen Faber wrote such a book, Me and God, which became an international bestseller embraced across the religious spectrum, while he became a household name, a highly sought after answer man.  He resists publicity, lives a reclusive life, does not answer his fan mail, and is clearly not happy with the lot God has given him.

The Answer Man follows a pretty familiar storyline: the expert who has helped so many people can't help himself.  (A favorite line: After the mailman, a huge fan, meets the real Arlen Faber, who is mean and unsociable, he warns someone else, "Be careful with him.  Maybe he wrote Me and God, but he did not read it!")  Then he meets a pretty young lady who helps him come back to reality.  Of course, there's the obilgatory win the girl--lose the girl--win the girl back pattern.  But formulas aside, The Answer Man provides enough depth and mature comedy to be thoroughly enjoyable.  It's nice to see a comedy that is genuinely funny without a bunch of bathroom humor and visual comedy.

For a movie about a man who has talked to God, there is very little theology here.  What is there is pretty basic feel good pop psychology theology, not necessarily un-Christian, but not really biblical.  For example, someone asks him about the problem of evil: If God is good, why is there pain and suffering.  "Opposites.  Without things that suck, you would have no idea what good was, and therefore be directionless.  You smell sh--, you walk the other way." 

I don't think I will be giving anything away by telling you that Faber fesses up to not actually talking to God.  He cried out to God in a moment of despair, asked a lot of tough questions, and wrote down the answers that came to him.  The viewer is left to wonder if there was, in fact, a certain measure of divine inspiration.  Certainly his writing blessed and helped many, but seemingly in a therapeutic way, not necessarily in drawing them closer to their creator.  But anyone who has struggled with hearing from God can relate to both the dilemma of discerning wisdom and insight from divine leading, as well as the appeal of someone who speaks with authority and certainy, claiming to be God's mouthpiece.

I really like Jeff Daniels, and he was terrific in this role.  And Lauren Graham's performance has to be the most positive portrayal of a chiropractor I have ever seen (even if it is the only one. . . .).  The only problem with the movie is the quick, goofy resolution, and the whole idea that people are so gaga and unskeptical about Faber's claims.  That aside, this is a fun comedy with a tasty dash of theological reflection.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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