As I understand it, Neale Donald Walsch got into an auto accident, broke his neck, lost his job, became homeless for a while, got a job at a radio station and started talking to God. In that order. In their numerous confabs, God told Neale that he needed to take up writing. According to Mr. Walsch, God commanded him (well, asked politely, anyway) to write three books. Those books made so much money that God apparently returned later to amend his original commandment, adding six sequels and countless spin-off products (Conversations with God: A Windham Hill Collection on CD, anyone?).
As God’s personal secretary, Walsch took dictation on Conversations With God, a trilogy of books that basically took every recorded philosophical and religious statement since recorded history and boiled it down to simplistic, easy-to-digest Chicken Soup for the Soul-style nuggets. According to Walsch’s New Age Christian philosophy, God is a groovy dude. He’s everywhere and everyone. He doesn’t want to judge you, He only wants to love you unconditionally. Basically, it all boils down to: I’m OK, you’re OK, God’s OK.
Since Walsch’s books have taken up permanent residence on the New York Times bestseller list, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising Hollywood type suggested doing a movie version.
Conversations With God relates Walsch’s life story, the exact same one outlined above: He got into an auto accident, broke his neck, lost his job, became homeless for a while, got a job at a radio station and started talking to God. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as interesting a story as Walsch thinks it is. In fact, as portrayed on screen, it’s actually a rather dull affair.
The film does benefit from a committed performance by Canadian actor Henry Czerny. Czerny’s been in scores and scores of films and TV shows, none of them of any consequence, really. (He did play “Yuri” in that crappy Pink Panther remake.) He brings a certain sincerity to the role of Neale Walsch. He seems like a nice guy. I’d have coffee with him. Sadly, however, the role doesn’t consist of much more than wandering around the streets looking pensive and occasionally staring at his own reflection.
The whole “conversations with God” thing arrives quite late in the film, leaving viewers with about an hour’s worth of a Hallmark TV movie about a guy who catches a bad break and ends up living in the sort of colorfully quaint hobo camp that would have given Frank Capra the warm fuzzies. Interspersed throughout this slow-moving tale are occasional scenes of the current-day Walsch on a book tour enjoying the fruits of his labors (or God’s labors, depending on how you want to look at it). Throngs of worshipping readers gather to sing his praises. Once in each city (so clockwork-regular as to seem pre-planned), a shrill naysayer stands up and accuses Walsch or God or whoever of hypocrisy. Within moments, Walsch has said the appropriately soothing thing, proving his skills as the pantheistic Dr. Phil.
I have no doubt that thousands of people have found comfort in Walsch’s feel-good words. Those who have will certainly find additional comfort hearing them repeated here. Snippets of Walsch’s philosophy, voiced in somewhat preachy monologues on screen, range from obvious (“Do what you really want in life.”) to corny (“Working at a job you don’t want to do? That’s not a living, that’s a dying.”) to confusing (that whole “fear-based love reality” mumbo-jumbo).
Ultimately, this is the sort of film that only preaches well to the already converted. There’s nothing exceptionally inspiring in Walsch’s tale. He’s no Nelson Mandela or anything, that’s for sure. He’s not even a very proactive protagonist, doing little to alter his life in any major way. And he only gets lifted out of his depression when God dictates a multimillion-selling book to him. (Next time, God, how about you cut out the middleman?) Even after fame and fortune arrive, our hero mostly wanders around looking like somebody hit him in the head with a shovel.
Message-wise, I can’t imagine any newcomers being shocked and awed by the whole “treat others as you would like to be treated” philosophy. It’s good, but it’s all been said before on the sort of inspirational posters you can buy at the “Dollywood” gift shop. But if you bought the books, paid for the lectures and own a copy of the Conversations With God desk calendar, I’m sure you’ll walk out of the theater after watching this film thinking, “Gosh, Neale Walsch really is a nice guy, and I believe everything he says!”--which can’t be all that different than what you thought when you went in.
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