Someone paid $28,000 dollars for a grilled cheese sandwich auctioned on eBay. The image of the Virgin Mary was burned onto it. This is parodied on the poster for RELIGULOUS, the film from Bill Maher and director Larry Charles, and points out what people forget about Bill Maher these days: He’s a comedian! The movie is not a documentary, it’s a comedy, and in that it succeeds because of its source material. After all, the mere concept of someone paying 28 grand for a grill cheese sandwich is hilarious, and the film is filled with such zealots. Therefore, it is also not to be taken too seriously, even if the subject is religion, because after all this is the director that did BORAT, for crying out loud (see, I was going to say “for Christ’s sake” but I refrained).
The film passes as a documentary in that the interviews and locations “document” the travels of one non-believer seeking out explanations and insight from the devout across the globe. From a priest at the Vatican to ex-Mormons of Salt Lake to a Muslim gay bar in Amsterdam, Bill Maher’s interviews pointing out the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of the various religions are played for laughs, with video clips of such inconsistent behavior cut throughout along with quips from Maher himself. Maher runs the gamut in the various religions, but focuses much of his ire on Christianity, because…well, the wealth of material. The film is even lucky enough to interview Jesus in two incarnations: as a preacher in Miami who actually believes he is the son of God, and as an actor playing Jesus in a reenactment called the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. Apparently Jesus is big in Florida.
Some people don’t like “Gotcha” journalism (if this can be considered journalism), but the hypocrisy of a preacher convincing parishioners to give to the Good Lord and walking around in thousand dollar suits and garish jewelry has to be brought up by somebody, why not Maher? Scientists that write books on creationism and true believers convinced of miracles (like rain) asked to explain themselves are the comic confrontations that fuel the movie, some of whom just flat out leave once they get the gist of Maher’s questions. But it’s also good to see that even Maher is touchy about some issues, as even he walks out on an interview with an Anti-Zionist Rabbi who challenged the legitimacy of the Holocaust. It’s nice to know his cynicism doesn’t go up to 11.
But as I have a problem with people who take the flick too seriously, I also have a problem with Maher taking it, and himself, too seriously. He plays the bit for laughs, but then does monologues about tolerance and the end of the world (shot at Mount Megiddo in Israel, where the Rapture is scheduled to take place) that are misplaced and self-righteous. I guess if he’s going for art, he should have something to say, but in the end you want to just scream at him sometimes…”You’re a comedian!”