Evan Almighty – A Review

“Sermon on the Ark”

I’ve always struggled with the story of Noah’s Ark as kid friendly fare. After all, it’s the story of God sending a flood to destroy most of the life on the planet due to the extreme corruption running rampant. Somehow that didn’t seem the stuff for Sunday School flannel graphs, no matter how cute the animals were. Now along comes Evan Almighty attempting to wring laughs from this back-story.

Bruce Almighty, the 2003 comedy hit, sought to answer the interesting hypothetical of what we would do if we encountered God in a real, tangible way. Director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk return, upgrading Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office) to lead in order to fill Jim Carrey’s vacant shoes. Morgan Freeman also reprises his role at God.

For the sequel, Evan Baxter wins a congressional seat then piles his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) and three sons — Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) — into their Hummer and move to Washington. She prays for them to become closer as a family, he prays to figure out a way to change the world. God appears and cajoles him into building an ark. Wackiness ensues.

Unfortunately, Evan Almighty suffers from the same sort of bloat that has infected other summer blockbusters, such as Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Being the most expensive comedy ever made, the movie has succumbed to the overblown, bigger is better, mentality. Though Wanda Sykes joins John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill (Accepted) in getting the most laughs from the thin material given; John Goodman walks through his role as villainous politician. Steve Carell works his particular brand of “dull everyman in awkward situation” laugh magic. Yet the movie still relies on corny poop jokes to propel this vehicle designed for kids and their paying parents.

“God, please help me change the world.” –Evan

At its core, Evan Almighty is a message movie masquerading as a comedy. Evan Baxter sets the laudable goal for himself of wanting to change the world, to make a difference with the time he has been given in life. So even though he’s not much of the praying type, he’s willing to take all the help he can get. As Evan begins his journey of faith, we find that he is not living in tune with his beliefs: his agenda is all about appearance and power, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of his family. People who want to change the world typically don’t know where to begin, often overlooking the obvious in starting where they are, at home.

“Get it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom.” –God

Evan enters into a dialogue with God, not realizing that the answer to his prayers may not be the kind of answers he had in mind. God’s plans are not always a part of our plans.: when He does break into our lives, it’s rarely convenient, though not all of us will experience animals showing up at our workplace two by two. Partly, this stems from us having little idea who God is other than what we tend to project onto Him. Praying for love or patience may result in God giving us opportunities to love or to be patient.

Evan’s journey of faith not only tests his faith, but also the love of his family, providing some of the films few honest feeling moments. For example, when God tells Evan “Whatever I do, I do because I love you” Evan replies “Do me a favor: love me less.” Or when Joan explains that “Maybe God didn’t mean a literal flood …” it causes Evan to exclaim “If that’s true, I’m gonna be so pissed.”

“I like stories.” –God

So what does an old story have to teach us? It’s a love story about faith, story, and a plan. It’s a story that goes back to seeing “the original design” of Creation, thus, one of the reasons for the movie’s strong environmentalism message. As the story catches us where we are today, it exposes the sins of modern life such as twisted ideas of beauty (“When you’re in the public eye, image is everything” says Evan. “You care too much about your outward appearance” replies God ), corporate greed, political corruption, and idolaters of magnitude (bigger houses, bigger cars).

“I don’t understand why you chose me,” may mark the beginning of Evan’s spiritual journey. Yet, if we try to seek God, we too might start to see Him everywhere. In the seeking, we become transformed into the types of people He wants us to be and the faith result is demonstrated in the doing, even though they seem like the little things, one Act of Random Kindness at a time. By the end, we’re caught up in a dance with God and come to understand that “He chose all of us.”

“So how about it? Feel like living on the edge?” –God

Despite its demonization, Hollywood isn’t stupid. In this post-The Passion of the Christ age, they know there is a market left largely untapped and uncourted and have no qualms about turning over every cushion in the church couch to get at that extra change. The comparisons between Evan Almighty and Bruce Almighty are inevitable with Bruce Almighty feeling more authentic and honest; while Evan Almighty strains to be safe and inoffensive. I had the nagging feeling that I was watching a sequel to Oh God (though I’d take Morgan Freeman over George Burns any day) rather than Bruce Almighty.

A bit more heavy-handed than the first, Evan Almighty panders to the family friendly, moral majority crowd and feels a little like preaching to the choir. The laughs are a little forced—I kept waiting for a laugh track cue—slapstick in lieu of organic comedic moments. It’s a Hollywood Sunday School confection—with none of Noah’s post-flood nude, drunken activities—with a genial predictability that succeeds at the expense of being engaging. A harmless film parents can take their kids to guilt-free.

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Evan Almighty – Tom Shadyac Interview

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Shadyac, director of Evan Almighty, for a roundtable discussion. As we quickly learned, he’s a long-haired, whirling dervish of manic energy, constantly defying people’s expectations.

RT: As compared to Bruce Almighty, it seems as if there was a conscious effort to stay away from anything possibly offensive, other than, say, poop jokes, in this movie.

Tom: It was a conscious effort to invite everyone to this movie. This is an ark story, with animals, a flood, and a big boat, and I thought it would be insane to not invite a two year old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone and I thought this movie ought to. It dictated to us what to do. So, no, you don’t find those things that I’m still absolutely fine with. Although, maybe you ought to not read your bibles then, because it has a lot of violence, sexual impropriety and people with multiple wives and deception – but the darkness is used to light.

RT: You worked a lot with people’s image and conception of God, how God is depicted and how we imagine God. That seems to come from your own spirituality because it’s consistent with Bruce Almighty.

Tom: It does, it does. That voice you see in the movie, that God voice, is very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it. How he delivers it, the way he says it. Yes, it’s very specific and personal to me the way God is presented in these movies.
RT: What do you want people walking away thinking about this dialogue with God?

Tom: Everything I do is a reflection of where I’m standing or something that I believe in. So as a story-teller, we want to spread that. I took a journey in my life. I’ve had a great deal of success. I’ll say blessing/curse because they go hand in hand. I think it can be very deceiving. Because I was an idolater of magnitude, the bigger the better: the house the money, the thing. And I had to learn about personal change. For me, this is an expression of that. So do I want them to take that specific message? If it speaks to them, yes. Hopefully there’s enough here so that we can meet people right where they are. Art is best when this great Thing works through us. We don’t even know what we’re doing. That’s my personal journey, but how many other journeys are involved in this web?

RT: It’s not clear in the film whether the biblical account really happened. As part of the film’s back-story, God gives an interpretation of the story but he doesn’t quite come out and say that it did happen…

Tom: This is a new telling, a new approach to the Noah story. I couldn’t tell you whether it happened or not. It wouldn’t shake my faith either way. I’m sure there are those who will say “it happened, it happened.” Maybe it did, go with God. I don’t approach with “I know,” I approach it with an openness.

That story could absolutely fully exist as it was. We are not contrary to that story at all, I believe. Let’s say it happened, He’s saying, “I once destroyed the world, because there was so much corruption. We’re here today. I no longer have to destroy the world, look at what you’re doing. To each other.

There’s been some talk about the Christian environmentalists at work. How can we not be concerned about the environment? Because the environment is not a tree, it’s not the air, it’s how we treat each other. You and I are now in the same environment, we’re creating an environment here. I hope one of respect. This movie is about the environment, meaning you, me, and this gift of a world that we live in.

RT: Bruce Almighty was made four years ago, before what some people call “The Passion Effect” where everyone says Hollywood’s changed in terms of how they deal with spiritual themes and religious audiences. Having worked on religiously themed movies before and after that, what differences have you perceived?

Tom: Well this one difference I have perceived: I’m not doing anything different. I’m just doing movies that speak to me, whether there’s a passion effect or not. As far as studios go, they are aware a faith-based audience exists. It is the great unknown x-factor of how a movie will do. No one knew what it would do for The Passion [of the Christ], or [The Chronicles of] Narnia. But they are aware now, that there are people out there, a new audience, that can come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes in the movie. When I showed the studio the movie, they put more money into advertising in order to reach that faith-based audience. We don’t know what that will mean. It could be the big x-factor that puts us into the stratospheric box office. It could mean very little.

RT: There are people that you work with that know you are a Christian. When they see you working on a project like this, does it ever bring up any conversations or start them asking questions?

Tom: I will tell you the best preaching I’ve ever done is without words. As the saint of all saints, Francis, would say “preach the gospel wherever you can and where all else fails, use words.” I’ll tell you a story about effective preaching: people come up to me all the time and they say “where do you get your energy?” I’m 48. I look younger. I have kids in my company and I kill them all – they can’t keep up with me on a bicycle, on a surfboard, or in a debate about life. So they want to know “what’s going on with you?”

I started riding a bicycle right after Bruce, because the gift of play is a gift and I think we’ve lost that in our culture. It’s about working, working, working – we live to work, we don’t work to live. So I started riding a bicycle. I didn’t preach about riding a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle. I’m in really good shape, I could ride for a hundred miles, I have more energy. And now everyone in my life has a bicycle. I never told them to ride a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle.

I think people are asking all the time about each of us. If they see something worth inquiring about, and emulating, and incorporating they will, but it has to come from our change. I don’t think they care much about what I think of Jesus, I really don’t. I think they care how I embody the Sermon on the Mount or how I greet you. So the preaching is in the doing.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.