God Said, “Eh ... “

God Said, “Ha!”

The core material of Julia Sweeney’s performance movie God Said, “Ha!” is strong enough to nearly overcome the treatment. This filmed monologue is a lighthearted (but by no means light) look at everyday life swirling around disease. Specifically, it details how Sweeney’s life was turned upside-down after her parents moved into her house during her brother’s cancer treatments. The film is full of vivid characterizations, sharp observations of family dynamics, and a heartening buoyancy created by resilience and love.

But, put bluntly, Sweeney is no Spalding Gray. In its component parts, the script is often sterling, but as a whole it lacks coherence. Sweeney as a writer did not integrate the funny parts with the touching parts, and as a result, God Said, “Ha!” has lots of humorous dead ends; she takes these detours to their logical conclusions, turns around, and returns to her proper story. These comic asides might have been necessary breaks from incessant cancer talk, but they don’t add to the full work.

More damaging are Sweeney’s deficiencies as a performer. She’s a veteran of Saturday Night Live, but there’s nothing remotely loose or improvisational about her work here. Every step, every movement, every syllable, and perhaps every breath are painstakingly choreographed, and the effect is to drain the performance of anything resembling spontaneity. Sweeney strives for a thoughtful, conversation tone, but ends up looking and feeling calculated and cold.

And that means she makes virtually no connection with the material. Even though it deals with cancer in her own family, Sweeney comes off like some high-school performer reciting Shakespeare without ever quite figuring out what it means.

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