Al Franken hates lies. He’s recently made a career out of debunking lies and defaming the liars who tell them, becoming, in the process, our resident purger of perjury. In “God Spoke,” a documentary by a pair of Yalies about two years of Franken’s existence, Franken discredits a lot of lies and, as a result, metamorphoses from a cheerful sketch comedian into an perceptive political commentator.
The film chronicles Franken’s life from the fall of 2003 through March 2005. It was certainly a momentous period for him, opening with the publication of his bestseller, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” and closing with Franken toying with the idea of running against Republican Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman in the 2008 election. In the interim, “Lies” made its controversial entrance into our national dialogue, the left-wing daily radio program “The Al Franken Show” went on the air, and the 2004 election, for which Franken spent months trying to galvanize liberal voters, left him in despair.
“God Spoke” tackles these high-profile events, but the most moving segments of the film are those that go behind the scenes, segments that would not have been possible without Franken’s generosity, co-director Nick Doob ’69 MFA ’72 said.
“Celebrities are hard to make films about generally because they are so concerned about their image,” Doob said. “[Franken] opened up to us entirely.”
The filmmakers were drawn to Franken because he seemed increasingly interested in taking on the right-wing media, a marked departure from his days of jaunty comedy and an enormous transformation of character.
Co-director Chris Hegedus, a Film Studies professor at Yale, explained the filmmakers’ motivations for documenting Franken.
“We tend not to do films about … political issues,” Hegedus said. “We tend to do films about people at certain points of their life taking a risk. This was that moment for Al Franken.”
“God Spoke” documents Franken’s transition from stand-up comedian to standout commentator. We witness Franken’s aggressive wrestling with a number of heavyweight conservative pundits, among them Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Michael Medved ’69. Where Stephen Colbert’s political humor is more humor than political, Franken — despite his pedigree as a “Saturday Night Live” funnyman — lands stronger blows with reasoned criticisms of pivotal national issues, though his jabs are quite funny anyway.
The documentary does an excellent job of showcasing Franken’s political battles and does not conceal the catty repartee that is often a consequence. In one outstanding sequence, Ann Coulter launches into a diatribe regarding liberals’ poor manners, and she cites their rowdiness at Paul Wellstone’s funeral as one of the reasons that Senator Coleman won the subsequent election. Franken, onstage beside Coulter, immediately contests her statement, explaining that the reports of the behavior at the funeral were apocryphal, and the ensuing mayhem between Franken and Coulter that proceeds until the host is able to intervene. Political debate is not always clean and structured, but the scene reveals that Franken is not afraid to put his foot down when it comes to separating fact from fiction. (As it turns out, Franken was on the side of fact.)
More illuminating than the political jousts are the scenes in which we view “regular” Franken – not in the spotlight of television cameras or facing an audience of thousands, but rather in his home, in the car, in his office. As it turns out, private Franken is just as incisive and passionate as public Franken, although he does speak more quietly. These scenes make the film poignant and relatable.
In the upcoming months, Franken will have to decide if he truly wants to make a bid for the United States Senate, and, in doing so, help achieve his divine purpose, stated quite clearly in “God Spoke:”
“How do I know that God chose me to save our country?” Franken quips. “Because he spoke to me personally.”