The Best Christian-“ish” film of the year (so far)
Frank vs. God is one of my favorite films thus far into the movie year, and it is without a doubt one of the better “religious” films of those recently released. The plot is believable, the acting is credible, and the humor is comically ironical rather than salacious–all elements which give the film a definite edge over other films directed at the same demographic.
The plot follows the developments of a lawsuit brought to the Florida state court by renowned attorney David Frank (Henry Ian Cusick).
While visiting his niece on her birthday, Frank’s house is destroyed by an inexplicable tornado. Frank claims his house to insurance only to be told that a certain clause in his contract expressly denies compensation to the homeowner if/when a house is damaged by tornadoes, hurricanes or a number of of other natural weather patterns as these storms are deemed “acts of God.” It is this language which sends Frank over the edge and into the court-room, calling for a full-court press on and prosecution of the One and Only, the Beginning and the End–God.
The plot summary suggests a sort of far-fetched illegitimate sketch of a movie which very likely could have ended blasphemously. (Though when you consider the nature of some lawsuits being brought to trial today, the topic at issue here seems more realistic than far-fetched.) Nonetheless, I think the film did not.
I am by no means a legal scholar, but I did study political science at the undergraduate level. And from the perspective of one with such a background, the film’s depiction and portrayal of legal proceedings inside the court-room–even down to the politics involved in a judge’s preliminary decision to hear a case–are better researched than expected from the typical “comedy” movie. It is this layer of realism which grounds a somewhat far-fetched plot, and keeps the film in the realm of satire rather than farce.
Writer-director, Stewart Schill (whom also directed episodes of the TV series Dexter and Charmed) clearly did his research–even going so far as to cite recent Supreme Court rulings in the film’s script. This kind of research is difficult to conduct, it takes time and effort to read and comprehend such legal jargon, let alone incorporates these findings into pop-culture film. Schill does a commendable job in all three aspects.
The film is humorous, comical, and trusts the audience’s intelligence more so than do many faith-based films. With Heaven is For Real, for example, much of that film’s humor was contrived out of situational irony, which while it was humorous, lacked a certain edge. Frank vs. God employs puns, innuendos, sarcasm, and various other rhetorical devices. Frank (Ian Cusick from Lost) lines are predominantly funny quips which are subtly humorous–maybe not laugh out loud funny–but certainly entertaining and without a doubt refreshing.
That being said, while nothing in the film is inappropriate for children, the film itself, because much of the humor revolves around irony, it may be better appreciated by a more mature audience.
On the topic of audience, even though the film does have an air of religiosity surrounding it, it doesn’t have as its overarching goal to proselytize. Frank posits the question “either God is merciless and cruel, or He doesn’t exist.”
This question, and others, while it may be topical is by no means new. In his Confessions, St. Augustine struggled to define and understand the nature of God, just as he sought to discern the nature and origin of evil. The Manichees also dealt with this same issue, positing that God was of a dualistic nature–both good and bad.
N.B.: There is one lingering issue with the film–and that is inherent in the question asked by Frank above: “either God is merciless and cruel, or He doesn’t exist.” This kind of a blanket statement categorically assigns God with responsibility for all bad circumstances–accidents, diseases, deaths–that mankind endures. Claiming God to be the impetus behind such calamities is a dangerous game to play. In Christian ethics our professor warned us against such statements saying that questions like “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” have the propensity to render God responsible for such occurrences regardless of how they are answered. Care should be taken when making such assertions as they have two consequences: one, to push evil back to God, and two, to remove humans from taking responsibility. We must recognize that we have a hand in the happenings on earth and not use God as a means to duck any moral accountability.
This one caveat withstanding, the film is without a doubt one to be seen–a humorously intriguing film capable of touching a variety of audiences.
Claudia Mundy is a Campbell University graduate. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy.