LOS ANGELES, CA — Tom Shadyac made his name as the director and producer of such lowbrow comedies as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor. Then he took the bathroom humour in a more spiritual, if occasionally schmaltzy, direction with Liar Liar, Patch Adams and the phenomenally successful Bruce Almighty.
All of Shadyac’s previous films were rated PG-13 in the United States, but his newest film — Evan Almighty, in which God tells a man to build an ark, just like Noah — is rated a family-friendly PG. Shadyac, sitting down with several journalists on the Universal Studios backlot, is eager to let everyone know that the film is “safe.”
“It was a conscious effort to invite everyone to this movie,” he says, right off the top. “If it’s an ark story, with animals and a flood and a big boat, I thought it would be insane to not invite a two-year-old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone, and I thought this movie ought to, [as well].”
That doesn’t mean it’s entirely free of poop jokes and the like, though; but this time, it’s the animals — hundreds and hundreds of them — that make the mess. And Shadyac makes no apologies for the scatological humour, which he says reflects his own sense of childlike wonder, and amusement, at the way God made the world.
Humour and faith
Asked how he reconciles the humour with his religious beliefs — Shadyac says he attends a Catholic church and is a self-described “Jesus freak” — he speculates that God “might say, ‘Who do you think designed the human body? I have a whole lot of ways to go with this elimination thing!’
“And so we’ve been designed in this miraculous, marvellous, humorous, funny, serious, dramatic way. And so the fact that I, at my best, can return to childlikeness always speaks to spirituality, not against it.”
Bruce Almighty came out four years ago, and surprised many people by marrying its below-the-belt humour to an earnest discussion of love, free will and the need to submit to God’s plan for our lives. It also happened to come out one year before The Passion of the Christ woke Hollywood up to the fact that films made for the church market can make lots of money. Is that why Evan Almighty is so much “safer”?
“I’m not doing anything different, I’m just doing movies that speak to me, whether there’s a Passion effect or not,” he says. “But as far as the studio goes, they are aware that the faith-based audience exists. It’s the great unknown X-factor.
“Nobody knows what it will do on this movie, nobody knew what it would do for The Passion or Narnia, but they are aware now — they have evidence — that there are people out there who are a new audience that can come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes and tones of the movie.”
Evan Almighty brings back two of Bruce Almighty’s stars: Steve Carell, who, as Evan, practically stole the show from Jim Carrey; and Morgan Freeman, who plays the warm, humorous and compassionate God. (He even laughs when Evan tells him his plans.) Shadyac says the God that appears in his movies is “very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it — how he delivers [his dialogue], the way he says it.”
What would He say?
And what would God warn us about now, if we could speak to Him?
“I think He would say, ‘I’ve already warned you.’ I always had a dream about Jesus, looking me dead in the eye, when I was very young, and He said, ‘I never knew you.’ Right into the gut and the soul. It’s already out there, it’s been said. I don’t think He needs to say much more.
“We need to listen to what’s been said, we need to incorporate and act on what’s been shown us through the lives of others and the written word.”
— A version of this article was first published in ChristianWeek.