22 August 2004 | Blueghost
Simple and warm.
Something tells me this film would work a lot better if it was shot today; and by that I don't mean a remake, but if somehow we could transport the cast and crew (Reiner, Burns, Denver, et al) to 2004, let them shoot the film, and release it, it would be the super sleeper smash hit of the decade. A remake would fall flat on its face.
The story is quasi-original. The notion of a higher or supreme being asking one of us mortals to do his bidding is nothing new, but to place the gentle and warm spin on it, and to take that legend out of its biblical era context, and place it in (what was then) contemporary times, is really a stroke of genius.
Burns plays a grandfatherly God who is concerned, though not wrathful. This God is not Cecil B. DeMille's fire-and-brimstone God from "The Ten Commandments." Nor is Burns' God the detached entity that is less hands on than God's foes in "The Exorcist" or "Omen" series. In "Oh God" we have a creator who wants to instill a little reassurement to Earthbound souls. Burns' character is one with a need that must be fulfilled. But Burns' God doesn't go about it by creating apocalyptic scenarios to threaten nor coax mankind into the task. Instead this God approaches the problem with a more thoughtful plan. Veteran Vaudevillian George Burns' does a superb job portraying the Almighty, and does so with sublime humor and grandfatherly frankness.
Denver portrays an honest grocery store manager whose sole purpose is to satisfy his customers. That is until George Burns beckons him hither. What's even more amazing is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge anyway, Denver gives us an exceptionally convincing performance but with little professional experience. The Jerry Landers character he portrays is honest, thoughtful, earnest and full of conviction. Denver lets his own character shine in this performance.
The real genius of this film is that the comedy is very sedate while still being funny. The film doesn't try to be something more than what it already is. A film with God as a character could've gone anywhere, but Reiner doesn't take too many liberties with the material at hand. Instead he keeps film focused and even keeled, while tossing in good humorous bits to keep up the levity. Even so, please be warned, the laughs are spaced out. This is not a film filled with wall to wall gags. Both humor and overall energy are kept low to drive home the storie's message.
This is in comparison to a recent "reincarnation" of the God theme/film in "Bruce Almighty," which has often been compared to Reiner's 1977 work by commentators on this website. I finally saw "Bruce Almighty" recently, and where I found sections of it humorous it really didn't hold a candle to "Oh God." The theme was selfish, the character was selfish, the overall feel was typical 90's corporate art, with Jim Carry's absurdities thrown in for poor measure. This is largely because "Bruce Almighty" is really a different film, with a different premise, and regrettably (though not unexpectedly) botches most of the affair. "Bruce Almighty" satisfies a juvenile curiosity. "Oh God" is a soothing uplift, and, by contrast, is the better film.
"Oh God" doesn't have any direct and explicit sexual references, there're no body function jokes, nor obvious and readable plot points nor plot holes, unlike a good number of today's films. There's no rap "song" at the end credits, nor cameo by some pop artist (other than Denver, who plays the lead), nor any product placement. Nor is there even any CGI (though it may've benefited from one or two CGI shots). "Oh God" a basic film with a timeless premise, and very simply message.
See "Oh God." It's food for the soul.