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2018 Sundance Film Festival

I Finally Walk Out of a Movie


Arlen Faber isn’t just a bestselling author—he’s a worldwide phenomenon. His book Me and God, first published in 1988 and celebrating its twentieth anniversary, is like Tuesdays with Morrie times The Celestine Prophecy times The DaVinci Code (in both sales and vapidity, one presumes). Faber, played by Jeff Daniels, claims to have spoken directly with God. Millions consider him a prophet. Ah, but the reclusive Faber, whom we first see meditating by the window of his Philly apartment, is not the man he appears to be. The doorbell rings, and rings, and rings, prompting him to spit out every principal expletive as he trudges downstairs and proceeds to treat the mailman like dirt.

Now meet Elizabeth. Played by Lauren Graham (BAD SANTA, “Gilmore Girls”), she too is not who she seems. We first see her in the kitchen, encouraging her son to eat his soy bacon and scrambled egg whites, and then we see her driving him to school in a Volvo. Camera cuts to the punch line: he’s buckled into an absurdly multi-strapped child seat in back, though he’s obviously too old for one. “Be careful,” she says to him. “Have fun. Be careful.” And then, in case you didn’t get that she’s overprotective, she yells those same words to him as he runs into school.

Immediately after which she rolls down the window and lights a cigarette. Ha.

The hilarity continues. Arlen has a bad back, but has stubbornly ignored it for years. Finally it gives out on him entirely—right after he has dropped the needle on an old 45, thus forcing him to listen to the song ad nauseum. And then the song starts skipping. And then it’s morning, and he’s still on the floor, and the song’s still skipping. In stitches, I tell you. Stitches.

Guess who turns out to be a chiropractor? Well, I guess the two of them had to meet somehow. Arlen crawls out of his apartment and down the sidewalks of New York, which is really funny because, you know, he’s a rich, famous jerk being forced to suffer this indignity. Oh, and then someone drops money at his head, having confused him for a homeless man. Finally Arlen makes it to Elizabeth’s office, where the receptionist obliviously asks him to fill out paperwork because he’s a new patient. Daniels then pouts for already the sixty-eighth time in the film, give or take.

I’d had enough. Not only were the jokes too easy, but the orchestral score was so blatantly instructive—laugh here, and here, and here!—that it reminded me of a Keaton slapstick. To be straight with you, though, I was in the minority. The audience was loving it; uproarious laughter from all corners. Then again, most of the people at the Library Theater looked not unlike Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham. Nothing wrong with that—just saying, I think there was a generation gap.

Back onscreen, Arlen goes to an empty church to try to talk to God, which, it appears, he has never tried before. After dropping $5 in the collection plate, he sits down and then moves from pew to pew. Nothing’s working; God ain’t talking. As Arlen gets up and leaves, taking his fiver back in the process, I decided to do the same. I’m just glad that—thanks my press pass, which got me in for free—I didn’t have to snatch my money back.