Published on August 22nd, 2003 | by Jay Richardson0
The Man Who Sued God
Cast: Billy Connolly, Judy Davis, Billie Brown, Colin Friels
Billed as Billy Connolly’s first comic film role – his performance in the lacklustre Still Crazy charitably ignored – The Man Who Sued God adds little to the Big Yin’s reputation. Indeed, as comedy, this Australian film falls considerably flatter than his camp bed in its most tiresome scene. It’s a shame, because despite the little guy taking on the big bad corporation being a cliché Hollywood has largely grown out of, the film’s premise is truly thought-provoking, and somewhere in this well-meaning muddle lie interesting questions about the lip-service we pay faith.
It’s not Connolly’s fault. Essentially playing himself, he is Steve, an Irish (why?) former lawyer who got out of the rat race and went nowhere in particular, except to catch crayfish with his dog Arthur. He has an 11-year old daughter (Emily Browning) and an ex-wife (Wendy Hughes) who live with the guy from the caravan park (Blair Venn). It’s a financially strained, but largely amicable family arrangement that establishes Steve as a bit of a wild one, a drunken, capricious manchild, but essentially a loveable guy. This impression is reinforced by his straight-laced brother, David (Colin Friels), another lawyer with an accent that oscillates annoyingly between Scots and Aussie depending on how angry he is with his sibling.
Returning to his boat during a storm, a lucky Steve escapes being blown to smithereens when the craft is struck by lightening. He’s not too bothered however because he’s got insurance. Unfortunately, the insurance company dismiss the accident as an act of God and refuse to pay out. After raging in time-honoured Connolly fashion, he hits upon the idea of suing the Almighty and acquires the help of a sympathetic journalist named Anna (Judy Davis). Dismissed as a crank by some, he suddenly finds himself burdened with the hopes of scores of other unfortunates left financially insecure by their insurance companies.
A romantic dalliance with Anna and the scheming machinations of Gerry Ryan (Billie Brown), lawyer for all of Australia’s religious denominations (save those of dark-skinned people) and the big insurance companies (clearly at his desk in the morning whilst Steve and Anna are still canoodling), sets the stage for an admittedly quite intriguing courtroom battle. Can Steve turn the churches against the corporate fat cats by proving they’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain? Will David really work against his own brother? And is that a heavenly cockatoo smashing through the court window?! Regrettably, even the best part of the film is not immune from the trite humour that unfortunately undermines the whole.
It’s as if director Mark Joffe and scriptwriters John Clarke and Don Watson were so in awe of their original idea that they almost forgot the rest of the script. The supposed slapstick of an angry Celt on crutches undermines the legal drama and the subtler humour of the church elders’ discomfort. And whilst Brown is sleazily watchable as the scheming Ryan, just what is the point of David’s character? His betrayal of his brother is unconvincing, as, unfortunately are the love scenes between Steve and Anna. As she showed in Naked Lunch and Barton Fink, Davis is a really good actress. But comedy is not her forte. Moreover, there’s absolutely no doubt that Anna and Steve will end up together, but you still have to sit through so many tedious will they/will they moments that you start hoping God will just smite them both and be done with it.