Monday, January 9, 2017

Oh, God!

Over the weekend, I watched Oh, God! off my DVR, having recorded it several months ago. It's on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

John Denver plays Jerry, the assistant manager at a grocery store, with a loving wife Bobbie (Teri Garr) and two children, living the suburban life and presumably hoping to make it to full manager one day. One night he and his wife are going through the mail when Jerry finds a note addressed to him saying more or less that God would like to talk with him, and that Jerry should meet God tomorrow in a suite on the 27th story of some office building. Jerry, of course, dismisses it, thinking it's a practical joke being played by one of his friends who is known for playing elaborate practical jokes. But the note winds up coming back from out of the wastebasket, and unripped, too, so Jerry finally finds his curiosity piqued.

Jerry goes to the appointed location and finds... an all-white room with a chair and an intercom, looking a lot like the stereotype of what people think Heaven looks like. And then, a voice comes over the intercom, sounding a lot less stentorian than Bible epic-era Charlton Heston, and more like an old man. God is telling Jerry that He wants people to know He exists, and that Jerry should spread the message. God also wants people to make the world a better place, but the people are the ones with the ability to do it, not God; if people want a better place, they're going to have to put in the work themselves.

Jerry is obviously skeptical, but God has the power to make a lot of things happen to get Jerry to believe, first at the office tower which never had a 27th floor in the first place, to making it rain inside Jerry's car, to finally appearing in person, looking a lot like George Burns. God, however, points out to Jerry that He is appearing in this form because it's one Jerry can comprehend; to other people He would look and sound different. Jerry ultimately does decide to try to spread this God's message, first in the newspaper, and then things snowball from there. Jerry winds up on the Dinah Shore Show, and a group of renowned theologians ultimately summons Jerry to test his claims of having talked to God.

All along the way, this turns Jerry's life upside down. Bobbie doesn't believe Jerry at first, but she does love him, and realizes that he wouldn't lie to her. He could be mistaken, but not a liar. The kids, however, have more of a problem, since young children can taunt each other something fierce and they have to put up with it at school. The grocery store chain isn't so certain they want an employee spreading God's message like this; much better would be the traditional way. And then there are the people who believe Jerry can bless them through God.

Oh, God! is a movie that clearly has its heart in the right place. It's a comedy, but a fairly gentle one, with one exception (they really overdid the stereotype of the televangelist, well-played by Paul Sorvino in spite of the heavy-handed material). John Denver wasn't a professional actor, but gives a good account of himself as the man who understandably doesn't know how to respond to the idea of somebody claiming to be God and wanting him to spread God's message. Teri Garr is quite good as the suffering but loving wife. And of course, George Burns does a fine job with the deadpan humor, playing a sympathetic God who may in theory be omnipotent, but has no desire to intervene in human free will.

Oh, God! is also thought-provoking at times, asking viewers the question of what we would do if something like this were to happen to us. It's a tough question, since I think most of us would naturally be skeptical, and of course if somebody we knew claimed to have talked to God in the way Jerry did, we'd all say, yeah right. You can't blame Bobbie and the children for acting the way they did, or even some of the theologians.

One other thing worth mentioning is the production design. The movie was released in 1977, and so much of this movie screams 1977 in a good way. I tend to like the production design of contemporary movies a lot more than I do movies trying to look back at a period within a lot of people's living memory, and Oh, God! will bring back a lot of memories for anybody who remembers the late 1970s. Denver drives an AMC Pacer, a really trippy little car. And then there's the goldenrod kitchen appliances; when I was growing up we had a refrigerator that color. The supermarket where Jerry works also looks ancient compared to today's standards. And of course the place only had manual cash registers, no bar code scanners.

If you haven't seen Oh, God! before, I well recommend it, and think it's even suitable for older children.

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