Welcome back! We’re kicking off our review of the 2017 Christian movie Only God Can. In this movie, a bunch of really privileged women discover that they actually needed
self-induced religious euphoria Jesus all along and all that Problem of Evil stuff is just silly. Get your intoxicants of choice lined up! We’re diving in!
In the Beginning.
Movie kicks off with one of the favorite verses of toxic Christians everywhere, Luke 6:37:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Weirdly, they don’t like it when one of us heathens reminds them that they’re judging–in defiance of what they sure think is one of Jesus’ direct commands. In fact, they come up with kabillions of hand-waving excuses for why they simply must judge the people they despise, and judge them RIGHT NOW.
Then we get an overhead shot of what the text on the screen and a road sign both assure us is Charleston, presumably the one in South Carolina. It’s the super-picturesque part of town in both cases. We get no shots of slums after these signs, only horse-drawn carriages, quaint downtown homes, and rows of expensive beach houses.
Not feeling like this is relatable yet.
Presumably in one of these beach houses, an affluent, well-groomed middle-aged Southern Belle assembles letters in pink envelopes. She looks tense. While she works, the camera pans across pictures of beautiful young women and beauty-pageant stuff like tiaras. Presumably, these are the younger versions of this woman and her very relatable friends. She seals each letter with an actual kiss, refreshing her perfectly-applied lipgloss to her perfectly-plumped lips before each letter. And each letter gets a spritz of perfume too.
It is hard to imagine a more self-indulgent, less-relatable scene than this one. When she finishes with the letters, she hands them off to a man I thought was her butler to mail. She doesn’t even walk them out to the mailbox herself. Someone else thought he was her husband, but while he’s walking the letters to the mailbox he reveals to another character that he’s actually her chauffer.
He’s obviously thinking that this is way beneath him, but she only giggles at him. “Better get a move on,” she advises, before wafting her way back upstairs in her palatial home.
These characters really don’t look relatable to me so far. In my early 20s, my appearance suggested strongly that a space alien had accidentally received an Amish costume the day she was supposed to infiltrate a college campus. I lived off of Sam’s Club bulk-buy macaroni & cheese. No, I did not possess a desk whose entire function consisted of giving me a place to perch while sending delicately-seasoned notes to my millions of dear friends.
At the Garden Chapel.
At the super-relatable Garden Chapel Church, in the next scene, we encounter a middle-aged woman sitting alone in the darkened sanctuary of the church, gazing up at its stage full of contemporary-worship instruments.
For some reason, she chooses this moment to open the letter she just received from Coley. That’s always where I liked reading my mail: darkened church sanctuaries. Yep.
A man startles her by tapping her on the shoulder. I identified this man in the last post as the Movie’s Designated Penis, who will be required to put into context and help resolve all the silly things the women in the movie are thinking and saying. He’s florid and red-faced and I wouldn’t trust him at all if I encountered him in public. He’s just too jolly and tryhard friendly. Everyone, meet Pastor Rodney!
In turn, Lisa Sheridan plays Sara. She’s a huge bundle of anxiety and nerves, stressed beyond all reasoning, and obviously Jesus Power hasn’t helped her much there. It’s really hard to see this scene and not think that the actress herself probably didn’t have to “reach” much to play this poor unfortunate little waif. Every picture I’ve ever seen makes her look like she’s about ” away from a nervous breakdown.
Outlining the Problem to the MDP.
He asks her to unburden herself and she does, immediately. She shows him Coley’s letter and explains that it’s inviting her to her sorority’s annual getaway.
He just looks surprised that she actually has a problem to ask about. In certain genres of movies, that invitation to let him sit next to her to hear what’s on her mind would be the prelude to some extremely adult activities.
Anyway, the invitation looks like an old-school packet of contraceptive pills. Inside, we see that Coley’s invited her friends to the “Holy City Heartbreakers,” with “The Cougars” listed under “Date and Time.” Sara tells him that the name refers to Charleston’s nickname as “the Holy City.” And they weren’t really a sorority; they just hung out together. The college mascot was called the Cougar, she hastily tells him when his eyebrows raise over that euphemism for sexually-liberated older women.
She tells him that last year, she felt left out and upset enough that she didn’t want to go back this year. See, she kept trying to Jesus Juke the festivities by preaching at them, and they blew her off. In fact, she tells the MDP with a sad little tragic expression on her face, “they just made fun of me!”
WORST PROBLEM EVER! EVER!
HAW HAW! THEY’RE BOTH SUCH GRACELESS SWINE.
He makes a pouty moue and chuckles at her that he sure knows what that feels like. Yep, they both behave like total boors around their loved ones, who then must come up with socially-acceptable ways to neutralize their sabotage attempts to wreck the weekend.
She continues that they “harass” her and “bring up stories from [her] past” laugh off her evangelism attempts. (In a minute she tells us that she wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ till joining Cru.)
Yeah, well, the way Christians behave speaks volumes about exactly how seriously they take their own product. And her friends know that. If Sara’s never really behaved according to her own religion’s rules, I’d expect that to become a part of her friends’ reaction to her sales pitches.
However, one of the women in the group, Gracie, recently joined TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Sara describes this as “recently became a Christian,” but I don’t believe any of these women aren’t already Christian. They’re almost certainly just not TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like Sara is. And Sara calls Gracie a “sheep” and declares she can’t let an “innocent sheep like that go to the wolves by herself!”
She amends her statement. Most of her friends aren’t wolves. Except maybe Coley, who suffers from alcohol addiction. Sara says it’s “destroyed most of her life.” MDP says he sure understands that. Maybe he’s an alcoholic too? Would explain the red face and bloodshot eyes. He tells her that the wrecking of lives “often happens to people who drink obsessively.”
And Sara’s just very upset that none of her friends want to confront Coley with her addiction–not even Patrice, a published poet and social-justice warrior (SJW) feminist. She’s the opposite of Coley, “who thinks men make the world go around!”
MDP jokes around, saying brightly, “Well, don’t we?”
And Sara rolls her eyes. “Hardly.”
Then there’s Glen, a woman in the group who literally apparently thinks that “good deeds put you into Heaven.” OH that can’t stand. That can’t be allowed to last.
This entire scene really reads to me like the prelude to a torrid and highly unequal love affair between this pastor and Sara. He comes off as way too flirty. After he offers to tend her two wild sons while she’s away, one of the church staffers finds them and calls him away; he leaves with a wink at Sara and a friendly pat on her shoulder.
At the Beach House.
Very next scene, morning at Coley’s beach house: Coley and Patrice tease Sara for being “in love with Pastor Hot Rod.” She gets upset.
Gracie sits next to her and tries to reprimand the others, but they’re having none of it. However, Sara concedes that MDP “is a man after God’s own heart… and mine.” So yeah, those two are definitely hovering at the lip of an affair.
As Coley and Patrice head off to make more drinks, and yes, it’s the morning, Glen leaves to call her sweetheart. She lies about it to Sara and Gracie, saying the call’s about fundraising for a women’s shelter she’s helping open.
Gracie makes a pointed note of Gracie’s son signing up to serve in the military. She asks, equally pointedly, if Glen’s been “praying for his safety.” Glen looks hugely uncomfortable and ignores the Jesus Juke, leaving to make her call.
Gracie rolls her eyes and berates herself for Jesus Juking her congratulations. Sara reassures her that “you didn’t blow anything.”
“They’re Christians… They Love Everybody.” HAHA NO.
In the kitchen, Patrice tells Coley she’s the only one in the house who actually likes her. Coley snorts. No, she tells Patrice, Sara and Gracie love her. Patrice snorts back: they’re Christians. Therefore, they love everybody. QED.
Does Patrice just not know any Christians? In the Deep South in particular, Christianity functions as a control method and a mechanism for the expression of sheer hatred for others.
Outside, Sara and Gracie talk about Sara’s ex-husband Scott. Apparently, her TRUE CHRISTIAN™ faith made him angry and abusive. Yeah, that’s not how unequally-yoked couples work, but whatever. Scott left when she declared she wanted to homeschool their boys, but he’d been having an affair anyway for most of their marriage. Also, he’d play all night on “the computer” while she laid in bed alone.
Gracie suggests she get Pastor Rod on the hook, but Sara tells her that “no preacher would ever marry a divorced woman.” Oh, my. Contrived problems galore here!
Then Gracie shares her testimony. She always felt like something was missing, until she became a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ with Sara’s help. Now, Sara tells her, she has a Heavenly Father who “will always come home.” She preaches at Gracie for a while about Jesus.
Just so ugh.
The Wrong Kind of Christian.
Inside, Coley tries to recruit Gracie’s daughters to the world of child pageants. When Gracie insists that confidence comes from within, Coley tells her that’s “a load of bunk” and it really comes from “achieving things.”
Coley’s more right than wrong, but the movie wants viewers to clutch their pearls over that exchange.
While Patrice and Glen talk about Coley in the kitchen, Coley hard-sells pageants to Gracie in the trophy room. (SO RELATABLE! Don’t we all have a huge room filled with high school and college trophies?) She reveals that yes, she’s totally a Christian, but not a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. She strongly advises Gracie not to drink too much “Christian Kool-Aid.” All the while, she gives Gracie a makeover.
We get a flashback to Coley’s horrible parents: her abusive, alcoholic mother, who drives her to succeed at all costs and fear losing anything, and her ineffectual dad. These represent painful memories that Coley pushes away.
An Excruciating Dinner.
At dinner, Sara puts Bibles on each seat at the table. Coley shows up to be a backbiting bitch to Sara. Christ, all these women are awful people to each other. They’re insulting, but in that undertone sotto voce way that only Southern fundagelical women ever manage.
Seriously, they are nasty to each other. This dinner seems excruciating in the extreme.
Coley gives them all bottles of a fine French perfume. Patrice gives them all copies of her latest book of poetry. Glen gives them all subscriptions to some socialite magazine. Obviously, Sara got them all Bibles, as mentioned.
Gracie gives them all… um, what? Super-Photoshopped pictures of the group. Then Gracie preaches at them about how wonderful she thinks being Christian has been for her. She claims that her imaginary friend has made her a better person. Afterward, Sara speaks for Jesus in telling her that she’s “a good and faithful servant.”
A storm rolls in while they break out the wine. Coley gets stinking drunk and Patrice puts her to bed.
In the morning, Patrice confronts her about her drinking but Coley refuses to take her seriously. Then Coley gives her a huge check to publish a new book. In fact, she gave all the women checks. She told Gracie to use the money to enroll her daughters in pageants, but Sara won’t even reveal what her money was supposed to go toward. She’s giving it all to her church. When Patrice tells her to use it to raise her boys, she says, “God will provide.”
UH, maybe her god DID just provide?!?
The Problem of Evil.
Gracie dies in a car accident driving home in the stormy weather.
Sara hears about it on the news the next day.
The movie officially no longer cares about Coley’s drinking. Now it cares about resolving the Problem of Evil that’s just erupted.
Coley goes to the funeral drunk and looking terrible.
Glen’s family refuses to go with her to the funeral. They act like she’s crazy even for asking them to go.
Sara shows up looking haunted. She goes to Gracie’s family and takes charge of her friend’s young baby.
Patrice gives the eulogy. I’m suddenly so glad I did my mom’s.
And a hipster Christian gives an acoustic-guitar rendition of a song Gracie apparently liked, “This Is Not My Home.” It’s terrible and he’s terrible and his eyebrows make me feel irrational. But the actresses all act totally affected by it.
The Huge Blowup.
Later, they all talk about how “beautiful” the song was. And Sara preaches at them all. Patrice actually receives that preaching happily for the first time, but Coley is sick of it. When Glen tries to take away her booze, Coley unleashes her full Southern Belle Cluster B anger on them all.
No longer content to be passive-aggressive, she is aggressive-aggressive! She even manages to pull a little racism out of her nastiness bag for Patrice! (PS: I once lived in Marietta. It was a quickly-gentrifying suburb of Atlanta in the 2000s.)
When Sara insists that they all love her very much, she laughs at them. She declares that they all wish she’d died, not Gracie. She calls Sara a “stupid Bible-thumper” and says she knows deep down there’s no god to save anybody. Then she comes face to face with Gracie’s mom, who is just thunderstruck by her rudeness, and quiets down and bustles out of the funeral home.
Patrice and Glen decide afterward that they’re done with Coley for good. Patrice declares that “nothing short of a miracle is gonna help her turn her life around.” Then she talks about how that idiotic song at the funeral affected her. She’s realizing that she missed out on all the big humanity-making landmarks of womanhood, like having kids. (UGH UGH UGH SERIOUSLY UGH)
Sara, meanwhile, gives a Bible lesson to Gracie’s mom and daughters.
Pastor Rod: Child Abuser.
The next day, Sara brings a sheet cake to the MDP at the church. She thanks him for caring for her sons and declares that they’ve been amazingly well-behaved. He replies with a hint that he beat their asses by quoting that Bible verse about “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Seriously. A lecher and a child abuser!
HAW HAW! And she clearly doesn’t quite know what to do with that info. I’ll have to tell you later, next week, about what a crush of mine said that is putting me in a foul mood seeing her expression now. Remind me about Braden if I forget because it’s whoa. She’s making the same dreadful bargain in her mind that I almost did once.
Seeing her expression, he laughs. HAW HAW! Then he asks her out on an official date. She accepts. Then she leaves. The secretary shouts after her, “Bless your heart!” He takes them to his place and barbecues burgers for them, while she arranges the accompaniments on the patio table like a good little wifeykins.
Sara, snap that one up QUICK before he discovers the girls working in the Sunday School department!
After the boys have gone to bed, Sara and MDP talk on the patio. He shares his testimony (it’s boring) and Sara Jesus Jukes the conversation by turning it around to her struggles converting her hen’s group. One of her boys interrupts him. We see they’re much older than expected. He’s way old enough to get his own damn drink. But Mom leaps right up to serve him like a good little mommykins.
Glen’s “Monkey Business.”
All this time, Glen’s been conducting a big internet romance behind her husband’s back. (This was the guy she cut out of the beach house meeting to go call.) She rationalizes it by saying her husband cheats too. Well, he’s in Charleston on business and she wants to meet him. She talks Patrice into allowing him into her big poetry reading fundraiser.
Patrice, meanwhile, is halfway to conversion.
She meets Sara later and says she’s been reading the Bible Sara gave them all at dinner that night. Sara listens to her talking about how totally empty her life feels.
Patrice decides to convert and Sara invites her to her church to do the ritual for it.
Sara visits Coley at her beach house. Coley’s sorry for making people upset, but she gets upset with Sara for evangelizing her.
Sara does it anyway, and persists. Coley dismisses her. When Sara leaves, Coley breaks down in tears.
Meanwhile, the feds visit Glen’s home. They warn Glen’s mother that her internet boyfriend is a con artist.
Glen’s in shock. Her mother screeches at her about her lack of concern about “your family name means nothing to her.” Glen tells her to shut up and storms off. Apparently the whole town will now know she was conducting this romance. (How? Just how?) She ends up at Sara’s church with MDP confessing her “sins.” She’s amazed that as good as she’s always tried to be, her life’s still falling apart and nobody cares what she does.
MDP uses the old tired evangelism technique of “Have you ever told a lie?” on her, and she buys it. In fact, she walks right into that trap. And Glen converts on that basis, largely. She does that whole “help me my unbelief” thing that the Bible talks about, hooray.
Coley’s in Big Trouble.
Ambulance drivers load Coley into their vehicle. She might have overdosed. The chauffeur looks worried.
Someone calls Sara right as Glen leaves to tell her Coley’s in the hospital. MDP rubs her hand in a skeezy way and drives her to the hospital. There, they discover that Coley took a lot of pills in addition to too much booze. Glen’s there too, and Patrice.
The doctor gives them all kinds of probably-HIIPA-restricted info and allows them to visit her. Sara and MDP go first. After the preliminaries are done, Coley asks to talk to MDP alone.
MDP’s bedside manner is beyond weird and disturbing. I am now 100% of the opinion that he got a secret director’s note about being a lecher fishing off the church’s dock. He uses scare tactics to “save” Coley by telling her about his mom, who died of alcoholism. Neither of them even wonder if their culture of toxic masculinity and femininity might have anything to do with any of this; they all assume as a given that the problem here is Not Enough Jesus.
Anyway, MDP hands her a Bible and makes her promise to read it. She hugs it to herself as he leaves.
The Secretary’s Perfidy.
Daisy, the church secretary, took care of Sara’s kids while Sara and MDP ran to the hospital for Coley. Now, the next morning, she brings the kids back to Sara and confesses her wrongdoing to the TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
See, she herself wanted to marry MDP. But she saw MDP giving attention to Sara! So she retaliated by starting gossip against her with a neighboring pastor.
That evening, MDP holds a baptism service. Coley goes first. She looks totally euphoric afterward. Then Glen goes and smiles hugely at MDP afterward. And then Patrice heads under the water and laughs in glee. Meanwhile the band plays a hipster Jesus song.
Weirdly, in the shot of all three women waiting for baptism, Patrice looked like she was set to go second. But okay.
As the song continues, MDP asks Sara to marry him. On stage. At a church service. The song goes quiet and suddenly MDP’s mic goes loud. Everyone looks shocked! OMG! OMG!
Sara’s friends rush out to hug the happy new couple. Their hair’s still wet. All the secondary characters are in the audience section and look happy: they got dinner and a theatre performance!
Oh thank all the cats in the world, we’re done at last.
Yikes. They HATE Us.
If all you got was the trailer, you got everything you needed. This movie, more than most Christian movies, gives the whole game away in that trailer.
This movie’s really about how awful the lives of non-Christians are and how Jesus makes everything better. But it doesn’t. He doesn’t. None of Christianity does. They want viewers to think that drilling down harder and harder will make it all start working. But if only a little Jesus-ing doesn’t work, then pouring on a lot of Jesus-ing ain’t gonna make it work better. There’s not a sub-therapeutic dose of Jesus-ing.
(That was for ssj.)
The room is spinning so I hope I’m making sense here. I’m offended at how hard this movie felt it was necessary to beat up its non-Christians to make a point. That point is Join us, or else Jesus won’t help you like he helps us.
And that’s more offensive than anything I can possibly imagine. It’s not just them claiming an imaginary benefit that we know they’re not getting.
It’s them insulting us to our faces about our lives and drawing up these imaginary outcomes for us in their heads based on what their mythology thinks should happen to people like us.
They absolutely hate us. They can’t stand to think that we’re doing all right–or at least not worse than they are–despite not Jesus-ing. This movie is a sort of compensatory fantasy they drew up to make themselves feel better about the situation.
Seriously, I’m a bit past the bend so I really hope I’m making sense.
Just wanna say. I love that everyone latched onto “MDP” as a description for the skeezy pastor. I LOVE YOU ALL. AND I LOVE OUR LURKERS TOO. I SEE YOU. IT’S OKAY. YOU’RE OKAY. IT’LL BE OKAY.
Here, then, is the scoring for this movie.
- Ridiculously photogenic heroines: 8/10, but 40 is the new 28 so whatevs
- Pokes at institutionalized racism and SJW hatred: 1/10 holy cow let up a bit there fundies, like we know you hate us, you don’t hafta make it so obvs
- Plotting, pacing, and all that stuff: 2/10
- Pretending that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ aren’t passive-aggressive, hateful, and self-medicated: 50/10, amazing projection there
- Breaking the woobie: -100/10, they flat-out murdered her, WTF
- Movie’s Designated Penis running the show: rolling my eyes so hard they might stick that way
- Knowing the main heroine died of alcoholism: I hate everybody involved in this movie
TOTAL: -39. Too boring to be funny as a Bad Movie, too annoying to be taken seriously as a Faith Movie, too cringey to be something toxic Christians would like ordinarily. Just a blah of a movie.
Thanks for watching! Join us later on in the week as we cover some of the tropes this movie uncovered.
NEXT UP: The trope of the meaningless life lived without hope–as a fate suffered by non-Christians. Or or then: REVIVALS! OMG, these are so important in the Christ-o-sphere. But I don’t think people who’ve never tangled with fundies know much about them. Fundagelical U is coming to a computer/device monitor near you! Make sure you’re registered! Get your books before class! Wear your jerseys!
(In truth: There’s not really a registration or books required. Just be here for it! See you soon! MWAH!)
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