The Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus film Al Franken: God Spoke is not so much a documentary as a reverential campaign commercial; hilarious, fun, and devilishly good, but lacking even the slightest shred of objectivity, though it never pretends to be anything else. As such, no one save the utterly devoted will care one whit about this movie, and even fence-sitters will likely be bored to distraction. Moreover, itís not even notable as a cinematic piece, as itís sloppy, choppy, and often stripped of context. And though itís far from high art and wonít send the medium in any meaningful direction, itís one of the most enjoyable films of the year, that is until the conclusion, when we are forced to relive the pain of John Kerryís loss all over again. Sure, itís just a highlight reel: a slice of Air America here, a book convention there, with interviews, jokes, and media events thrown in, but itís a sustained bit of whimsy that helps remind liberals that a†dose of levity is the only way out of the humorless madhouse that has cursed the Left to a generation of electoral defeats.
Ostensibly, this movie charts the evolution of a comedian — from SNL alum to serious political commentator and, by the end, a possible Senate candidate from the state of Minnesota — but more than that, itís simply an opportunity to watch a quick-witted comic talent eviscerate conservative blowhards like Sean Hannity, Bill OíReilly, and Michael Medved. Whether itís the LA Book Festival (OíReillyís meltdown still tickles the funny bone), the 2004 Democratic convention (Hannity, all haircut and smarm, reluctantly comes over for a condescending chat), or a much-deserved (but upbeat) slam of Bushís pet Sasquatch Karen Hughes, Franken proves that heís not only smart and media savvy, but able to stand toe-to-toe with big guns not used to being challenged. The OíReilly battle is especially illuminating, because it proves conclusively that Foxís resident cocksucker never imagined that a shorter, less attractive Jew would ever clean his clock. Of course, the public humiliation becomes Billís obsession, reducing him to apoplectic rage whenever Franken enters the conversation. OíReilly will even insist that heís above personal attacks, but numerous clips show a frothing Bill calling Franken a ďvile human being.Ē And now that MSNBCís Keith Olbermann has joined the war, piling on an unsympathetic lout has never been so engaging.
Again, there isnít even a minimal attempt to cohere the footage into a narrative, so we just sit back and watch Franken do what he does best. And while Iíve always found him interesting, it wasnít until his radio gig that I found him one of the few voices of reason in our increasingly depressing political landscape. And what he does, frankly, is take the rants and lies of others and exposes them for all to see and hear. Itís not so much original thinking as clearing the air. When Brit Hume throws out a phony statistic about the likelihood of dying in Iraq as compared to California, Franken uses a college class to show how the numbers were twisted to serve an agenda. But Franken refuses to soften the blow — these arenít mistakes or errors of fact, these are deliberate, calculated lies. And thatís what has people so enraged, after all. Or when he shares a room with Ann Coulter (who in one shot looks like a much paler version of Manute Bol), he is the epitome of restraint, until of course he is required to challenge the inevitable bullshit. Franken has a reputation for being a bit prickly (a Boston Globe reporter says as much), but it never appears to be without provocation. Of course, the filmís edited for just such an interpretation.
Franken is a bit softer, though, concerning the troops, as his numerous USO tours demonstrate. Still, this is a necessary nod to decency, as few would — or could — share my disdain for the human instruments of a vile policy. That said, Franken never panders, and his hoped-for candidacy will be genuinely refreshing because heís already named names. And thankfully, the film included a clip from one of his tours, a riotous appearance as Saddam Hussein that has him breaking from his restraints and charging the soldiers while screaming, ďFuck you!Ē That the room erupted in laughter should prove that at least a portion of the military continues to think for itself. And yet, Coulter mocks Franken for his travels, proving once again patriotism is not only the last refuge of the scoundrel, but the first hideout of the coward. But it never has made sense why anyone in Iraq would find fault with Franken. Heís the first one to state that if one must die, itís best to let him know exactly what for.
Franken also visits the 2004 Republican convention in New York, managing to be harassed by RNC goons, as well as impersonating Henry Kissinger straight to his face. Itís an awkward moment to be sure, not so much due to Frankenís impression (itís spot-on, actually), but rather because Kissingerís so out of touch that heís never even heard of the man standing right before him. Had Al been a murderous dictator or prize-winning human rights abuser like himself, itís more likely old Hankís face would have lit up with recognition. As it stands, we can only feel a bit flushed at the entire encounter. Still, itís a reflection of why the Al Franken we see throughout this movie is such a wonderful personality — he wonít back down from any challenge. Power player or security guard, if that personís full of shit, heíll come for your head. But heís far from a one-dimensional sarcasm machine. During Kerryís concession speech, Al sits in stupefied silence, tears running down his face. And after those early exit polls, who could blame him? For me, though, thereís only rage. Bitter, murderous, paralyzing rage.
Quite reasonably, the film suggests that Senator Paul Wellstoneís untimely death in 2002 pushed Franken from the sidelines to a driving need for public service, though I imagine itís also a visceral hatred of the eventual winner, the dreadfully whitebread Norm Coleman. Franken moved back to Minnesota as a hint to the faithful, and I believe that Minnesotans are just crazy enough to give him a chance. After all, they elected an ex-wrestler governor, though that was in a three-way race. Head-to-head, a quirky non-politician may face more of a challenge. But Frankenís more popular than ever, and by 2008, this country may be in so much of a mess that heís seen as a savior rather than a silly substitute. Most importantly, Franken appears to have Wellstoneís genuine sense of outrage and unflappable stature in the face of unpopular causes. And when Wellstone appeared in that footage that now seems so long ago, I couldnít help but wonder what he would be saying as Iraq went further and further down the toilet. Though he could have said ďI told you soĒ, itís unlikely he would have been so self-righteous. He would have just kept pounding away at the truth, and bearing the brunt for all of us. When he died, it seems like the last bit of air left the liberal balloon, but maybe — though thereís every reason to remain pessimistic — Big Al will take us back. Just enough to make us believe again.