Oh, God! (1977)

17 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Upon meeting God Himself, a mild-mannered grocery clerk named Jerry is asked not to smoke as He adds, “Tobacco was one of my big mistakes.” Jerry, of course, thinks this is some sort of prank and plays along by asking if God has made any other mistakes. God’s response—“Ostriches—silly-looking things. And avocados—I made the pit too big.” Yes, the one who claims to be God has just declared himself fallible. But the crazy part is that he really is God. There’s no other way to explain it.

That’s how the writers of “Oh, God!” want to play it. Are they being blasphemous? Not necessarily. This is a satire on religion, but not in a mean-spirited, cheap-shot, or offensive way. God Himself isn’t given dumb treatment in this movie; in fact, as played by George Burns in human form, he’s like how we would imagine him if we were to meet Him. Be honest—don’t some of you imagine him as an old man wearing golf pants? (Well OK, He actually explains that he chose this form so that Jerry would be comfortable with his appearance.) “Oh, God!” is not trying to offend anybody—it has good nature and has a feel-good spirit to it.

The story of “Oh, God!” features Jerry (John Denver) as he receives a letter in the mail, granting him an interview with God. Jerry is curious, so he goes to the location he’s supposed to meet Him at. He at first thinks it’s a prank performed by a friend, but God pulls many tricks to convince him who He really is. (For one thing, he makes it rain inside Jerry’s car.) Now that Jerry is convinced that he is seeing God, what now? God wants Jerry to spread the word that God is alive and that things on Earth can be all right, if we want them to be. Pretty simple, but as you’d expect, when Jerry states that God has told him to repeat this message, he is met with skepticism as he hits first the news, then the media, and of course, the churches.

The screenplay to “Oh, God!” is winning in the way that it delivers many surprises while still being careful around its subject matter. My favorite line in the film is not about God’s mistakes, but about his last miracle—Jerry asks if God still performs miracles, to which He responds, “The 1969 Mets.” There are other funny scenes, such as the 10:00 news story featuring Jerry, and the final courtroom scene in which Jerry (and God) must present his case after many have accused him of blasphemy.

George Burns is wonderful in the role of God, with a twinkle in his eye and a trustworthy face and voice. John Denver, however, is a bore. His constant whining grew tiresome, as did Teri Garr as his equally skeptical but somewhat loyal wife. But Paul Sorvino, as the reverend who helps bring Jerry to court for his “blasphemy,” is well-cast and pretty funny.

“Oh, God!” could have easily been a low-brow, bad-taste satire or a Sunday morning church sermon, but this is a funny, tender, and pleasurable comedy with more human values than you might expect.

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