Evan Almighty, a contemporary retelling of Noah’s Ark and the flood, marked the 15th anniversary of its release during the summer.
I missed the 15th anniversary of the comedy this past summer so I figured to watch the film after Parashat Noach was read in shuls across the globe. For my non-Jewish readers, a parashat is the weekly Torah reading that Jews read every Shabbos morning in shul. Prior to Shabbos morning services, a portion of the parashat is read on the preceding Shabbos afternoon, Monday morning, and Thursday morning.
Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), a newly elected congressman from New York, moves with his family to Prestige Crest. The neighborhood community is in the fictional Virginia town of Huntsville. He’s in Congress on the heels of a campaign promise to change the world. In addition to the promise, Evan prays to G-d to bring his family closer together–including sons Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips), and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett). G-d (Morgan Freeman) works in mysterious ways and next thing you know, a chest arrives at their door with equipment. There’s some hysterics that come initially especially since Evan starts seeing G-d everywhere. Moreover, variations of Genesis 6:14 start showing up everywhere in his life. It takes a bit for the message to kick in and he looks for a bible in the house.
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with compartments, and you shall caulk it both inside and outside with pitch.
Thanks to Congressman Chuck Long (John Goodman), Evan has himself a nice office. He’s also asked to serve as a junior co-sponsor of Long’s proposed bill, Citizens’ Integration of Public Lands Act (CINPLAN). As Evan gets deep into building an ark with his children, Long becomes disgusted by his actions. With both beard and hair growing longer, G-d adds a robe into the mix–suffice it to say, there are frequent wardrobe changes in which Evan has no control over. Before he knows it, Long suspends him from office and later, his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham), and children pack up their bags. It’s only when they’re at a restaurant where The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is on TV in which Joan gets a message from G-d himself. G-d inspires Joan to see the ark as an opportunity to bring the family closer together.
Evan knows the flood is coming at midday on September 22. When we finally see rain falling, it is not enough to cause any sort of damage. Thanks to three of Evan’s staffers, we learn that Long cut corners on a dam project in order to build the neighborhood. Eventually, everyone seeks shelter on the ark, lest they be wiped away in the flood. It is not a world-spanning flood but rather one in their neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the dam waters take them all the way to Capitol Hill!
In doing a bit of research, I learned that Universal acquired the rights to The Passion of the Ark from Sony Pictures. Somewhere in the process of developing the film, they turned it into a Bruce Almighty spinoff starring Steve Carell. It’s a fascinating idea and if you have the rights, why not rework the film. With Jim Carrey declining to do the sequel, Carell is perfect for the role. Plus, they throw in some nice easter eggs for The Daily Show fans with Ed Helms playing a reporter and Jon Stewart playing himself.
Looking back on the film, it is not the cheapest comedy to make. The budget ballooning in cost is what led Sony to drop their interest altogether. It’s hard to say where exactly things went wrong in terms of the film’s box office take. When you compare it to its predecessor, the film is over double the budget. But at the end of the day, it just is not the same financial success as Bruce Almighty in 2003. I think that there’s a solid amount of jokes that land in the film on Steve Carell’s part. It’s not like it was too early for Carell to be leading a feature film. After all, he did The 40-Year-Old Virgin and was starring in The Office, too.
What Evan Almighty shows is that one act of random kindness can indeed make a difference. There’s also a message of responsibility that we–as humans–have to the environment and the animals around us. Fifteen years later, it’s fascinating to watch the film when there are currently people holding office in Congress that have no business being there. I mean, here’s a congressman that gets a suspension for his wardrobe and saying that an ark is coming. Meanwhile, you have election deniers and other sorts of conspiracy theorists in office…one of which believes in Jewish space lasers!
DIRECTOR: Tom Shadyac
SCREENWRITER: Steve Oedekerk
CAST: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, John Michael Higgins, Jimmy Bennett, Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill
Universal released Evan Almighty in theaters on June 22, 2007. Grade: 3.5/5
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