In the early Nineties, writer Neale Donald Walsch was living in a tent and surviving on recycled can money. He had a broken neck, a broken marriage, and a burnt-down house. Then he turned to God, and found Him surprisingly chatty. His one-on-One “inspirations” congealed into the smash hit Conversations with God, which summed up man's place on Earth with some pat truisms and advice on how to live with spiritual contentment. The book went on to spawn innumerable imitations and its own cottage industry; there was even a skepticism-free 2006 Walsch biopic.
The Answer Man is not that movie, nor does it even directly allude to the real Walsch. But for awhile its aim seems to be to take the piss out of (if nothing so violent as blow the lid off of) his type of new-age phenomena, which centers around the discoveries of one “enlightened” seer. Here, Jeff Daniels plays Arlen Faber, whose very Walschian Me & God, a book that also purported direct convos with the Maker, was a massive success 20 years before the movie begins and still sells enough to keep his upper-class existence in Philadelphia secure. The bug in the ice cream is that Faber is miserable—cranky, constipated, sore, bloated, and profanely irritated. When we first see him he's painfully attempting some contortions and cursing over his failure to “unlock the heaven within.” “This is the great guru?!” we're meant to gasp as we prepare for a cynical, skewed take on the hypocritical self-righteousness of the self-help world. Click here to read the rest of Justin Stewart's review of The Answer Man.