Years ago a recording was released of newly-composed piano music that an English woman claimed had been “channeled” to her from great composers of the past. The pieces turned out to sound like bland imitations of the styles of the dead masters; it seems that the spirits had lost a good deal of their distinctive talent passing over to the other side.
“Conversations With God” suggests that the deity, no less, has suffered a similar fate. You might dispute what’s found in the earlier books attributed to him (or her)–whether you read the Bible, the Koran or some other ancient volume–but at least they all said something vital, in a powerful voice. But the messages that God delivers in this movie, courtesy of author Neale Donald Walsch, who claims to be the divinity’s stenographer, so to speak, are all bromides of the most banal sort–the kind of stuff that wouldn’t have been out of place on Burma Shave signs (for those of you old enough to remember such things) or inside fortune cookies. It’s New Age-ism at its worst.
Of course, a movie needs not just to deliver a message, but to tell a story, and so “Conversations With God” is structured as a biographical sketch of Walsch’s own journey from despair to hope. After showing him, as played (quite well) by Henry Czerny, addressing a hall filled with admirers as a motivational speaker, it flashes back to a bleak period in the author’s life, when he found himself homeless after losing his job in the aftermath of an accident (he spends a good deal of time in a neck brace). Things seem to improve for him when he finds a gig as a radio announcer, but the closure of the station sends him into a downward spiral, ending in his questioning of God and his amazement with the deity replies. The upshot is his penning of the titular book, which gets the attention of a small publisher and then is bought for a substantial sum by a larger one, cementing Walsch’s career. And the film can conclude with passages from it, which are presented as direct transcriptions of God’s responses. But Walsch doesn’t portray himself as special in this regard; his message is that the deity talks to everyone, if only they’ll listen.
The problem, if one believes Walsch, is that what God has to say is pretty tepid stuff, comforting perhaps but terribly undemanding. And the biographical material is portrayed in so slow and desultory a fashion under Stephen Simon’s languid direction that despite Czerny’s earnestness, it grows quite tedious. Things perk up temporarily when Michael Goorjian shows up briefly as the program director at the radio station where Walsch gets his job–he adds some energy to the proceedings, even if it’s of an undisciplined sort–but otherwise the performances are mostly flat and rather amateurish. The production values, moreover, barely escape shoddiness.
Despite its obvious weaknesses “Conversations With God” will nonetheless satisfy New Agers, and as “What the Bleep Do We Know?” proved, there’s enough of an audience of them to support a relatively modest picture like this one. If you don’t already belong to the choir, though, the preaching isn’t likely to make much of an impression on you.