September 21, 2001 -- "God Said, Ha!" is a movie of a one-woman stage show about funny people trapped in a tragic situation.
The movie, written, directed and performed by Julia Sweeney, is at once funny and poignant. Sweeney is on stage with a few pieces of simple furniture. There are no other actors. It is an 85-minute monologue. We see another person once in a while. In one sequence, the camera moves behind another camera and we see another cameraman. Occasionally, the background lighting changes from red to blue and back again, minimalism. Sweeney is the show.
Sweeney, perhaps best known for her portrayal of the androgynous character Pat on Saturday Night Live, is luminously expressive as she recounts intimate details of her own life and her family's struggle with cancer. Her ability to mimic the speech of her brother and mother add much to the account of her family's tragedy.
Sweeney had just moved into her Hollywood bungalow, and was planning to spend some peaceful time alone when she found out her brother, Mike, had cancer. Mike moved into her house and she began to care for him. Then her parents moved in, and her sister began to visit. It was a madhouse. Even when her brother feeling very ill, he retained his sense of humor, a decidedly odd sense of humor.
Sweeney rambles along, telling us about her mother's odd way of expressing herself, about disputes over beer, pasta and cat food (one of her three cats got fed up with the situation and moved next door). It is an odd mixture of the mundane, the deeply moving, the absurd and the tragic, all told with equal enthusiasm. One memorable tale has Sweeney, who has just learned that she, too, has cancer, traveling to a medical center to retrieve her records from a researcher. She and the doctor studying her rare form of cancer end up having coffee together. The doctor notes that he hardly ever gets to meet the patients whose records he studies. There are the very odd stories of the "House of Cancer" the enjoyable head shunt, and the wandering ovary.
A reader once told me that "American Beauty" is about life. Nah, that was fantasy. "God Said, Ha!" is about real life and real people dealing with real situations, told by a real person. It is about people struggling to cope with a terrible disease. It is filled with people's imperfections, their pettiness, their anger and their fear, but it is also filled with the love the family members have for each other and how they support each other during the long crisis. It is about the hopes that ordinary people have for themselves and their family. It is about the decision to have children, and the consequences of having children. It is about all those sad, tragic, funny moments that many of us share because we are human beings. It's about life, in the richest and best sense of the word. This film shows the nobility and love of that same middle suburban class of people skewered in such a politically calculated way in "American Beauty." Only this time they are real people, not fictional characters.
The film is dedicated to Sweeney's brother. The executive producer of the film is Quentin Tarantino, who once directed Sweeney in "Pulp Fiction." The original music is by Anthony Marinelli. I saw this film on VHS tape, by the way. This film rates a B.
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