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Movie Review: Al Franken: Godspoke (Tribeca Film Festival)

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Al Franken: GodspokeIn a cinema verite film, the makers of The War Room follow comedian, political writer, and liberal radio show host, Al Franken, in the documentary feature in God Spoke, exposing right-wing bias in the media while showing Franken’s struggle during the 2004 presidential campaign against O’Reilly and the forming of his Air America radio show.

The film starts off with a Moses-like reenactment in which Al sports a very fake beard, is holding tablets, hears God inform him that liberal bias in the media is total BS, and then he’s ordered to attack back, i.e. take on right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. It’s rather a quirky start for the serious political/media discussion that’s ahead.

Right off the bat, the former Saturday Night Live (SNL) writer Al Franken says, “What I do isn’t propaganda. What I do is I take what they say and use it against them. What I do is jujitsu. They say something ridiculous and I submit them to scorn and ridicule; that’s what I do.” From there on out, the film follows Franken as he tries to fulfill this purpose.

The film mainly consists of footage from past interviews, speeches, political events, and clips from Franken’s continued on-air feud with Bill O’Reilly over Franken’s best-selling book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. The clips do a great job at showing how good these media hosts are at spinning things and turning the tables on attacks aimed at them. It’s also depressing because they successfully make Al look useless at times in his fight against them, especially since the majority of the story takes place during the 2004 presidential elections and we all know that did not turn out well for Democratic candidate John Kerry.

An interesting scene takes place when Franken is addressing a group of high school students and dissects a misleading comparison chart that was shown on the Fox News Network. In this regard, the film is, at times, very much like the better executed documentary Outfoxed, which also focuses on The Fox News Channel and its right-wing biases and effective spin.

Franken’s attacks throughout his film are strong. His comedy, though, is weak, as are his rather boring personal stories and his attempts at humor off camera amongst his colleagues. Overall, the narrative could have been punchier and taking out 30 minutes of the slower parts would have made for a much stronger film in the end. I kept waiting for a big wrap-up or a strong left hook (forgive the pun) to come, but it never came and the story just fizzled out.

For a cinema verite film, the camera work isn’t jumpy or dizzying as is produced on a handheld and it is spliced together with archive footage effectively. The film has been hitting all the film festivals across the country, including San Francisco and Austin.

The Upside:
Provides an interesting debate and a behind-the-scenes look into the political media and 2004 elections.
The Downside:

Rather slow, not fun to sit through in theaters, more of a rental in the comforts of your own home.
On the Side:
Franken has been married to his wife for 28 years and he has done four USO tours providing humor for the troops overseas. Also, Janeane Garofalo has a very brief appearance in the film.

Final Grade: B-

Film Stats:
Director: Chris Hegedus, Nick Doob
Cast: Al Franken, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Henry Kissinger, Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly
Release Date: 2006
Run Time: 90 min

By Tara Settembre, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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