Friends of God (2007)
"The church is the only hope for the recovery of this country."- Jerry Falwell
Stars: Joel Osteen, Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Brad Stine
Director: Alexandra Pelosi
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 00h:56m:35s
Release Date: 2007-10-09
DVD ReviewYou can see the criticisms that could be leveled against this documentary, sight unseen, as predictable as church on Sunday: this will be nothing but a hatchet job by a poster girl for the blue states, the daughter of the Speaker of the newly Democratic House, a woman who has lived not in the heartland, but in those dens of iniquity, San Francisco and New York City. But Alexandra Pelosi deserves far more credit than that, for having produced a documentary that doesn't come at its subjects with preconceptions or derision, though it's candid about recognizing the gulfs between the two Americas: she doesn't know a whole lot about the day-to-day living of the evangelical Christians in America, who number between 50 and 80 million, and this is an honest attempt to see how the other half lives. (She gave the President a fair shake in Journeys with George, and is similarly evenhanded here.)
As you might anticipate, that's sort of the problem right there—you can't tell the story of 80 million people in just under an hour, so what we get instead is a sort of travelogue, a road trip to some of the high points of evangelical America, the sorts of places largely unknown on the Upper West Side, or Georgetown, or the Hollywood Hills. And in a fantastical bit of documentarians serendipity, one of Pelosi's principal subjects is Ted Haggard, during his tenure as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals—you may recall that shortly thereafter he was busted for soliciting the services of and buying crystal meth from a male prostitute. Who among us is without sin?
Pelosi has an eye for the culturally incongruous, or the just plain odd—born-again professional wrestling, for instance, or Holy Land theme parks—and a lot of the piece is of wide-eyed children being thoroughly indoctrinated by things like the Genesis Children's Workshop, whose mission is to prove that evolution is a Satanic myth. Some of the standard hot-button issues get a good airing, of course—abortion, same-sex marriage, Terri Schiavo—and you get the sense that no one's mind is being changed, certainly not that of the woman with the camera from HBO.
There's also a persistent strain of persecution among some of the evangelicals, which too often gets quickly nudged into the language of white supremacy. Especially noxious on this score is Brad Stine, a conservative "comedian" whose attempts to pass off unfunny jingoism as entertainment constitute his act. He's bitter about not getting a network pilot, and operates on the most offensive kind of ethnic tokenism; and he's not above the rhetoric of race war: "We want our country back, and we'll fight for it." But that kind of sectarian ugliness is the exception rather than the rule, happily; we'll probably all agree to disagree, and hope that one day the other side will see the light.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The documentary was shot on high-end video; the transfer is fair, though rather too high in contrast.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
|DS 2.0||English, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: All audible, though occasionally with insane amounts of ambient noise interfering.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Only a dozen chapter stops.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA headspinning tour through the red states, that's really more of an introduction to rather than an examination of the cultural maws that separate us.
Jon Danziger 2007-10-16