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Al Franken: God Spoke

Chris Hedegus and Nick Doob's cinéma vérité-styled documentary Al Franken: God Spoke comes with a built-in laugh track courtesy of Franken, who has an unfortunate habit of braying enthusiastically after making anything that could reasonably be considered a joke. Maybe he's just getting the last laugh. Franken disproved F. Scott Fitzgerald's maxim about there being no second acts in American life when he segued from journeyman comic and writer to superstar political bomb-thrower, a sort of lefty answer to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Franken is a bully for the left in the same way Coulter is a bully for the right, but maybe divisive figures like Franken and Michael Moore need to yell extra-loud just to break through the complacency and apathy wracking the increasingly impotent American left.


In God Spoke, Franken's unpretentious Midwestern folksiness masks a fierce combativeness and gift for provocation. In scene after scene, he throws himself into the kind of emotionally charged conflicts most people go out of their way to avoid. For instance, he's so apoplectic in his confrontation with Michael Medved that even people who find Medved's reactionary politics repellent—a demographic that includes pretty much anyone watching an admiring documentary about Al Franken—are liable to feel sorry for Medved all the same. God Spoke follows Franken from his legendary dust-up with Bill O'Reilly through the rocky launch of Air America and his increasing immersion in Minnesota politics.

Hedegus—the wife and longtime collaborator of seminal documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, who executive-produces—captured lightning in a bottle with zeitgeist-friendly masterpieces like 1993's The War Room and 2001's Startup.com, but she's less fortunate here, and the launch of Air America was covered more memorably in the HBO doc Left Of The Dial. A fascinating combination of class clown and fact-happy debate-club president, Franken nonetheless makes for a compelling subject, but God Spoke veers uncomfortably into hagiography, especially as it winds down. The film ends with Franken contemplating a run for U.S. Senate, but it's clear that his political campaign began long ago.

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