Al Franken: God Spoke (2006)
"He is to me a vile human being who doesn't even deserve to be spoken about."- Bill O'Reilly, speaking about Al Franken
Stars: Al Franken
Other Stars: Ann Coulter, Franni Franken, Sean Hannity, Henry Kissinger, Katherine Lanpher, Michael Moore, Bill O'Reilly
Director: Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:24m:05s
Release Date: 2007-04-24
DVD ReviewWhat you think of Al Franken's politics is likely to be a very good indicator as to what you'll think of this documentary. I readily cop to being partisan—I've read a couple of Franken's books and listened to him as often as I could when his show was on Air America, and unlike his conservative counterparts, he came to talk radio with a legitimate comic pedigree. (In moments of candor, even conservative dOc readers would have to admit that the left is funnier than the right—and on some level asking why there are so many liberals in the entertainment business is kind of like asking why there are so many conservatives on Wall Street.) This documentary, directed by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus, is a good candid look at Franken from 2003 through roughly 2006—by the time the cameras roll, Franken is already politically committed, so this isn't about the raising of his consciousness, or a gee-whiz Mr. Franken Goes To Washington piece, either. But Al Franken is very good company, and it's clear that the filmmakers think so too.
The movie starts off with Franken promoting his book Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them, and the great recurring motif of the film is how much Franken and his work enrage icons of conservatism like Bill O'Reilly (see the quote at the top of this review) and Ann Coulter. The bashing by O'Reilly in particular is obviously gratuitious—it's clear that Franken has struck a nerve. (Which of course is just what he wanted to do, calling his radio show The O'Franken Factor.) Franken is happy to take on all comers, from Brit Hume to Rush Limbaugh, but one of the great things about Franken is that he's not afraid to work blue—there aren't that many people in the political landscape who owe huge debts of influence to both Paul Wellstone and Buddy Hackett, and Franken may in fact have that market cornered. The film covers a lot of the same territory as Left of the Dial, about Air America's earliest days, and in fact uses some of the same footage, from Franken's first broadcast—and it's another chance to see some of the network's fallen soldiers, like Lizz Winstead and Sam Seder, now that so much of what's broadcast there is strident, or bland, or both.
There's of course the obligatory nod to Franken's Saturday Night Live pedigree, and to Stuart Smalley, but the real fun stuff comes with Franken out and about, especially at the 2004 political conventions. He does his Kissinger imitation for Henry Kissinger, which is kind of fantastically daring, and he gets his heart broken on election night, having spent the day preparing for the transition to the Kerry Administration. The film ends with Franken getting even more committed to the public arena—he moves back to his native Minnesota, gets advice from old hands like Walter Mondale, and starts making noises about running against Norm Coleman for Wellstone's old Senate seat, in 2008. (He's now a formally declared candidate.) You get the sense that Franken goads the right because he's not in fact such a relentless self-promoter—he's had plenty of professional success, and is now putting himself on the line before the voters because he's the opposite of jaded, and retains a firm belief in the government's ability to do good for those who need our help. It's too bad that Coulter doesn't hail from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and lacks the same kind of moxie to run for the Senate, because I'd buy a ticket to those debates.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
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Image Transfer Review: An adequate transfer, a little heavy on the contrast.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The vérité style is rougher on the sound than picture; you'll miss swatches of dialogue now and again.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, The Weather Underground, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
6 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: There are a few good laughs in the package (13m:11s) of six deleted scenes, including Franken interviewing James Carville, Stuart Smalley on the campaign trail, and Al and Ann Coulter discussing the Grateful Dead. Also included are brief biographies for the film's directors.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsAn affectionate and candid portrait of a very funny guy who is good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, just may be the next U.S. Senator from the great state of Minnesota.
Jon Danziger 2007-04-25