Well chalk me down as ‘Pleasently surprised’ I was NOT expecting 1977’s ‘Oh, God!’ to be anywhere near as enjoyable as it actually turned out to be! I first heard of the ‘Oh, God!’ series through Film Buff and owner of the VFA Gregg ‘The REAL Mr. Movies’ Turkington, and I fully expected these films to be a laughably poor offering that would have earned a place in being sarcastically ‘pumped up’
But y’know what? At least with the first entry, I actually kind of had a pretty good time with this thing. I think it’s important to set expectations right from the off, this absolutely ISNT a ‘Zucker Brothers’ laugh a second gag fest, and I think if you have some religious background (my grandparents have run churches in their time) you’ll probably get more out of it than someone whos had a fully agnostic/atheistic upbringing.
But to me? What we have here is a decently written, well paced ‘light entertainment’ movie in almost every sense of the word. Its a film that couldnt really be done these days as the christsploitation genre has made the entire endeavour much too serious and ‘Pias’…In fact, this movie itself references the direction that ‘faith’ is heading in by quoting Voltaire “God is a comedian playing to an audience who’s afraid to laugh” and I think thats very true…but im getting away from myself here.
The script is pretty zippy, well paced, it has a decent three act structure, its got a wonderful tone that, as mentioned is the GENTLEST of light entertainment riffing on religion. I think the thing I like most about this script is just how open minded it is really to the subject of God. As in; they make it clear that this version of ‘God’ is not a christian god anymore than he’s a buddhist or muslim God. he doesnt claim really to be anything other than ‘God’ and even when pressed, the best this movie comes to pinning him down is that he exists in any form, shape or sound that is presented through the thoughtfulness of human action. Not to get too philosophical for what is basically a cheesy late 70s poke at religion. But I think that was the smartest thing they could have done, as it stops the writers from getting bogged down with specific biblical/religious scripture. It opens the film up to a wider audience and it means it’s free to play around with the idea of ‘A God’
Thats another thing I quite like about this thing, it’s not approaching it’s subject from a ‘You MUST believe’ standpoint, frankly; the God in this movie seems almost as surprised to be there as John Denvers character is to see him. it doesnt approach itself from the persepctive that there absolutely HAS to be a god. In fact most of our characters involved are atheist or agnostic and the tone of the film makes it clear that thats totally fine becuase it’s treating God here less as a physical living beardy being in the sky and more as an abstract concept. The concept of God as some kind of goodwill mechanism. I am ABSOLUTELY certain the film makers didnt think too deeply about all this. But I find it honestly quite refreshing that they’re SO hands off on the ‘Get thee behind me’ stuff.
This is the kind of movie I could easily see my grandparents watching and laughing along with, without getting too uptight. The dialogues charismatic, playful and fun. Its a family movie at heart. The kind of film someone whos a bit uptight would consider ‘Risque’ but the kind of film that your average Joe could easily have on in the background and get on with fine.
The direction and cine are consistent, technically on the level, vivid, colourful and bright. I dont think this film exactly pushes any boundaries, but then, it isnt really aiming to?..or at least…I think if you’re coming to this film EXPECTING something thats going to push the bar of cinematic and directoral quality…you’re maybe at the wrong movie.
Carl Reiner has delivered here just a really well shot and managed experience, with compositional choices that wont exactly WOW, but are rock solid and well packaged within their sequences. At this point though I will flag up that the editing is a little rough around the edges…whether thats a result of a 46 year old movie, or whether it was a little loose at the time I cant honestly say, but there are a few times when ‘God’ makes things dissapear on screen that are a bit too jumpy for me and a couple of cuts I spotted withing the sequences that didnt line up quite right, resulting in a cut too early or just too late.
Contrasting that though I do have to say there were at least a couple of moments where they did transitionary cuts that really did impress me. Of note a moment when John Denvers character is about to walk on to a daytime talk show, he opens a door and they match cut him walking through the door to a new scene where its a week later and he’s just got home to watch the recorded show with his family. That was a nice touch.
Performance wise, If there is a god, I kind of hope he is George Burns. WHAT a performance this guy gives here. bringing a nice almost vaudvillian turn to the character who’s a little grouchy, charismatic, and seems fairly to the point whenever he’s on screen. Theres the gentlest sense of a ‘troublemaker’ running under his performance, and I think thats the key to making this whole thing work as well as it does.
Credit also has to go to John Denver, who plays honest grocery store manager Jerry Landers with a wonderful naturalism. I love that it takes him a minute to get on board with the idea of a higher being. and I like as well that his character isnt pontificating across the runtime. it would be so easy to play this role with a degree of pomposity. to turn this more into a ‘Oh you fools have no IDEA!’ type role. But Denvers sincerity shines through across the runtime as a guy who GENUINELY has no idea whats going on, is completely open to the idea that he’s just gone mad, and even at the end of the movie. He doesnt claim to be a ‘believer’ rather he only accepts whats happened because he cant disprove it. I think he gives a really solid (if not VERY cheesy) performance and I enjoyed it.
All in all, this isnt a masterpiece. it’s an ultra cheesy, super relaxed ‘comfort film’ in all honesty. Its the comfy socks and mash potatos of movies, suitable for pretty much anyone apart from the most uptightest of folks, I was expecting a bomb and got a candy bar instead, I could absolutely see myself catching this thing again when I just want something gentle thats cute and could raise a smile and a little chuckle. And in many ways, thats all I really want from a movie.