Conversations with God – DVD Review


Available at Amazon.com

Director:
Stephen Simon

Cast:
Henry Czerny… Neale Donald Walsch/God
Vilma Silva… Leora Garcia

Release Date: February 27, 2007
Running Time: 109 minutes

The Movie
Conversations with God is two parts life of the author before he wrote the Conversations with God books and one part infomercial for those same books. Any benefit one might derive from the movie is canceled out by its infomercial-like aspects.

The movie jumps back and forth between two eras. In 1990, there is Neale Walsch, homeless guy. And in 1995, Neale Walsch, renowned author. The primary focus is, of course, on the path Neale’s life takes in starting in 1990, leading him to become who he is in 1995.

While we’re clearly supposed to be amazed at how far he has progressed/evolved in five short years, the 1995 version of Neale actually comes off as a bit of an asshole. Whenever he speaks to a crowd, he sounds just like any other phony motivational speaker. Actually, the first time we see him in that role he actually reminded me of Patrick Swayze’s character in Donnie Darko, especially when Neale began talking about how everything comes from either fear or love.

Another scene in 1995 has Neale asking a random janitor exactly why his books are so great. Fortunately said janitor carries around a copy of Neale’s first book around in his back pocket (I can’t imagine a hardcover book would be a very comfortable thing to keep in one’s back pocket, but he does) and seems to quite enjoy quoting the work back to Neale.

What passes for the film’s climax reflects even worse on Neale and the transformation he has undergone. During the climax of the film, Neale is in a rather small bookstore doing a book signing/Q&A session when a woman approaches him. I won’t spoil the scene but she asks Neale a variation on “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Neale is stymied as first but then comes up with an answer that would require knowledge of her specific situation. The woman is satisfied with the answer and the crowd is suitably moved. Later on, outside the bookstore, Neale tells his partner he had no idea where the response he gave came from. He isn’t sure if it was a divinely inspired message or if he was just pulling stuff out of his ass. His partner assures him it is okay; the woman was happy so apparently it doesn’t matter if he told her the truth or not.

The main plot of the movie is how Neale ended up homeless and how he adjusts to the situation he was thrown in. The first time we see Neale in 1990, his car is broadsided. What seems at first to be just a minor neck injury is re-diagnosed as a broken neck weeks later. Rather than being set for life with some sweet, sweet, medical malpractice money (after all it wasn’t like the doctor messed up with anything important), Neale soon finds himself jobless and homeless.

Depiction of Neale’s life as one of the homeless is the best part of the movie. Neale winds up living at a campground which caters to ‘professional campers’ (i.e. The homeless); it is interesting to see how the homeless village (for want of a better word) exists and the bonds formed between Neale and some of the other ‘campers’.

Of course, this part of the movie is also filled with lots of cliché ‘hitting bottom’ moments, such as when Neale eats his first dumpster burger and a small child stares at him. The sense of camaraderie between Neale and his new friends keeps things from getting too bleak though.

While Neale’s fall is well laid out, his subsequent rise back to homed, and later author, status is much less fleshed out. One day, after a montage of Christmas decorations and a Christmas parade, Neale just announces he doesn’t want to be homeless anymore. Luckily for him a series of semi-plausible coincidences lead Neale to finding a job as a radio DJ (we learn turning one of 1995 Neale’s speeches that all coincidences are actually the work of God so presumably God actually landed him the gig).

Given the title of the movie, and the fact that any character who has read even a little of Neale’s book gushes about how world changing it is, the ‘Conversations’ are pretty limited and bland. It’s just a series of conversations Neale has with himself (God responds in Neale’s voice in a voice-over fashion). There’s a few common sense observations, but it is mostly trite and not very inspirational at all (like the speech on how you shouldn’t be working for a living, but rather working for a life).

The sad part is, Conversations with God could have been a decent movie. If they had just made it about the changes in Neale’s life over those five years, culminating in his hearing voices (or at least claiming to hear voices) and turning those conversations into a best-selling book, while dropping all the stuff taking place in 1995, this would have been a far better movie. Not a great movie, mind you, but definitely better than what we got.

There is far too much focus on selling the Conversation with God books, which is odd considering the target audience for this movie, one assumes, is people who are fans of the books already. Even if someone hasn’t read the books, they’re going to be far more interested in them if you sell the story of Neale’s life, instead of making a bloody infomercial out of it. When Peter Jackson made a movie of Fellowship of the Ring he didn’t add in several scenes of the hobbits talking about how awesome it was to meet Tom Bombadil. If you focus on making a good movie, people will seek out the book or books on their own.

The Video

The movie is presented in widescreen and looks clean enough.

The Audio

Presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround. There are no problems on the audio front, though there’s nothing much to exhibit in the audio department.

The Extras

One has to stretch the definition of ‘Special Features’ to find any extras in this release. When you first pop in the DVD, there’s a short preview for What the bleep do we know?. And, if you skip past the end of the credits, there’s a brief scene which seems like it was deleted from the bookstore sequence. The scene is basically just another plug for the book though, with some woman telling Neale how great his book is and how she thinks she’s also having conversations with God, now that she’s read Neale’s book.

The Inside Pulse

As a late night infomercial Conversations with God would stand up pretty well. As a movie, it doesn’t stack up quite so well. Chances are even if you’re a fan of the books you’ll be disappointed with this one.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Conversations with God
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

4
THE VIDEO

7
THE AUDIO

7
THE EXTRAS

1
REPLAY VALUE

3
OVERALL
3.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)