(PG) 2 stars
Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God books have sold millions of copies. The first volume, which came out in 1995. spent 137 weeks – over two and a half years – on the New York Times Best Sellers List. The last thing in the world I want is to be bombarded by e-mails from people whose lives were changed by CwG, so right up front I want it understood that I am only reviewing the movie here, not the books and most certainly not the beliefs. In fact, checking out CwG has been on my “to do” list every since my best friend told me he was exploring the series.
Conversations with God is a “birth of the book” movie that opens with Walsch (Henry Czerny, looking and sounding very much like Scott Bakula’s haggard cousin) being awakened late one night by a disembodied voice saying, “Have you had enough yet? Are you ready now?” After the heavy on the string section title sequence, we jump forward in time to one of Walsch’s speaking engagements.
The segment plays like a spiritually-themed version of one of those half-hour infomercials for kitchen ware. Walsch holds court, saying things like, “that feeling inside of you, that love inside of you… that’s God” and “instead of worrying about what others think of you, concentrate on what you think of you.” A few members of the audience raise their hands to offer testimonials, then one guy angrily accuses Walsch of being a hypocrite. A couple of people move towards the man, but Walsch magnanimously waves them off and allows the heretic to berate him for being unable to keep a commitment to a woman. Walsch responds with humility and more quotable remarks and the session ends with the audience leaping to their feet and chanting his name.
The problem is that not one second of the segment rings true. Walsch talks in a deliberate fashion, coming off like a mopey New Age greeting card writer, and the questioners are about as convincing as the plants in infomercial audiences. Eric DelaBarre wrote the screenplay for CwG and he really needs to practice writing dialogue, because I’ve heard award show presenters reading cue card banter that sounded more spontaneous and realistic than the characters in this movie.
Anyhow, after the speaking engagement, Walsch sits down and has a big ole flashback, to the car wreck (nicely staged, by the way) that broke his neck, cost him his job and eventually left him homeless. He hooks up with a group of other homeless folks. To no surprise, most of them come off as stiff and pre-packaged as the hand-raisers at the speaking engagement.
After suffering for a while, Walsch spots an ad in the classifieds reading “Wanted. Weekend Radio DJ. Call 444-6784.” You know, like the ads for radio DJs you see in the paper everyday. He snags the job, betters himself, suffers setbacks, then finally gets his wake up call from God, leading to the book that started it all.
Conversation with God is a dreary affair, which is particularly troublesome in an inspirational movie. If you’re curious about the whole CwG phenomenon, I suggest you check out one of the books, because the movie is basically a slow moving, poorly written biopic peppered with mystical quotes. It plays like a vanity production, with Walsch portrayed in a near messianic fashion towards the end. He may actually be a prophet offering words that can change the world, but you won’t find enlightenment here.