Movie Review: Evan Almighty earns halo


By Gregg Tubbs

Evan Almighty
Cast: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Wanda Sykes, Lauren Graham, Jimmy Bennett, John Goodman, Steve Oedekerk, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon, Jonah Hill, Ed Helms
Director: Tom Shadyac
Rating: PG for some mildly crude humor.

They say if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.


In Evan Almighty, the lighthearted and gently spiritual sequel to the 2003 hit Bruce Almighty, newly elected Congressman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) learns that when you pray for God to help you change the world, your plans and God's plans may not exactly mesh. The film shows us that though God's plans for us may at times be puzzling, frustrating and even embarrassing, they are rooted in love…even if God asks you to build an ark!


As a child, I learned two important things from Bill Cosby's hilarious, and rightfully famous, "Noah" comedy routine. First, it's OK to laugh at things in the Bible. Second, answering God's call to service might mean that you will look foolish in the eyes of others. Noah's neighbors surely thought he was a fool — at least until the first raindrops fell. In Evan Almighty, Steve Carell plays the perfect Holy Fool — well-meaning, likeable and befuddled by God's plan for him.


After being elected to congress, Evan packs up his family and moves to suburban Virginia to begin his new life as a congressman. Although he has promised his voters he'll work to change the world, we quickly see that the first thing to change is Evan's own values. His new life is outsized: he buys a huge house and a monstrous SUV., and his ego has also become inflated. His new congressional office is suspiciously oversized as well. We later learn that powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman) has pulled some strings to secure the office for Evan because he is courting him to cosponsor a bill that will open up National Park land to developers.


The seduction of Washington has begun. Luckily, God comes calling, and Evan has to make a choice — follow Long in further exploiting God's pristine creation or obey the Lord and build an ark. When Evan asks God what he should tell the neighbors, God replies, “Tell them a flood's coming.”


Anyone who knows the story of Noah from the Bible knows that God made a covenant to never again destroy the world with a flood. So what does this remark to Evan mean? What kind of flood? What possibly could be God's purpose this time? Evan Almighty answers these questions in surprising and inspiring style, refashioning the Noah tale to one less about God's wrath than about God's love. It also focuses on the timely issue of being good stewards of God's creation.


Although Evan Almighty (unlike its predecessor Bruce Almighty) is a family-friendly film, it still delves into some serious subjects. For instance, the question of how one responds to God's call is pointedly addressed: do you obey willingly, joyfully or kicking and screaming like Evan?


The film also explores how God answers prayers, which provides one of the films warmest and most insightful moments. Evan's wife, Joan (Lauren Graham), thinking her husband has gone crazy, decides to take her three sons away from the madness to her parent's house. Even when she and her sons stop at a diner to eat, they still face the incredulous and mocking reactions of the other restaurant patrons to the television news report about Evan's ark building. Truly at a loss about what to do about her family and her husband, Joan confides her troubles to a waiter, who happens to be God in disguise. He suggests that when we pray for patience, God doesn't make us patient, but give us opportunity to be patient. And when we ask for courage, God doesn't give us courage, but gives us the opportunity to be courageous.


Evan Almighty also asks the question of whether all change must be big or whether big changes can occur through many small acts of kindness. It also delivers thoughtful messages about having faith and trusting God, even when we don't see the whole plan; and about persevering, even when the task seems hopeless — particularly when serving God might open you up to ridicule and public embarrassment.


We are also reminded that we are but stewards of God's wondrous creation — a message the film underscores by subtly using the melody of the hymn This Is My Father's World in the musical score.


I've read complaints that Evan Almighty lacks the "naughty" bite of Carrey's Bruce Almighty, which leaves me wondering exactly when wholesomeness became a bad thing. Others have found the movie "preachy," but doesn't it seem natural for there to be a message in a film where God is one of the lead characters? What a shame if there had been no message, no moral, no spiritual nourishment mixed with our mirth. I'm betting there's a big and appreciative audience out there for a warmly humorous, family-friendly film that reminds us that God loves us and "wishes we knew him a little better." Evan Almighty more than earns its halo.



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