In "God Said, Ha!," Julia Sweeney, the gifted comedian of "Saturday Night Live" fame, delivers an extended monologue so exquisitely written, so emotionally touching --- and so entertaining --- that she manages the almost impossible task of captivating the audience for 85 minutes with quite demanding material. With no changes in set or costume, and with only minimal alteration of lighting, Sweeney recounts with dark humor a traumatic chapter in her life, when brother Mike struggled and lost a battle with cancer and she herself was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. As Spaulding Gray ("Swimming to Cambodia," "Gray's Anatomy") has demonstrated, filmed monologues don't have great theatrical appeal, but an entrepreneurial distributor should release the film in major urban markets, where sophisticated viewers are likely to support and enjoy such challenging fare. Clearly meant for the specialized theatrical circuit, pic has strong video and cable prospects.

In “God Said, Ha!,” Julia Sweeney, the gifted comedian of “Saturday Night Live” fame, delivers an extended monologue so exquisitely written, so emotionally touching — and so entertaining — that she manages the almost impossible task of captivating the audience for 85 minutes with quite demanding material. With no changes in set or costume, and with only minimal alteration of lighting, Sweeney recounts with dark humor a traumatic chapter in her life, when brother Mike struggled and lost a battle with cancer and she herself was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. As Spaulding Gray (“Swimming to Cambodia,” “Gray’s Anatomy”) has demonstrated, filmed monologues don’t have great theatrical appeal, but an entrepreneurial distributor should release the film in major urban markets, where sophisticated viewers are likely to support and enjoy such challenging fare. Clearly meant for the specialized theatrical circuit, pic has strong video and cable prospects.

The origins of “God Said, Ha!,” which was entirely financed by executive producer Quentin Tarantino (who also appears briefly at the end of the show), are just as interesting as the work itself.

A recent divorcee, Sweeney felt a strong need to express publicly her anguish-ridden feelings. On Sunday nights, she performed at the Uncabaret, a weekly alternative comedy showcase at West Hollywood’s LunaPark, where she would recite the heart-wrenching yet hilarious rants to an appreciative audience. The response was so positive that she expanded it into a 1996 stage production, directed by Greg Kachel, now credited as the film’s co-producer, before taking it to Broadway.

When Michael, Julia’s younger sibling, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the Sweeney parents left their Spokane, Wash., home and moved into Julia’s Hollywood bungalow. Drawing on a situation similar to the one seen in Albert Brooks’ comedy “Mother,” Sweeney relates in great detail the feelings of a mature daughter, long separated from her folks, as she is forced to live again in a tightly knit family context. Impersonating every member of her family, Sweeney switches effortlessly from one character to another, re-creating in the process a ferociously lively and candid family album that, while very particular , also contains enough universal elements to make it relevant to any urban dweller, male and female, gay and straight, young and old.

Standing in front of a room simply decorated with a sofa, lamp, candle and glass of water, Sweeney recounts the ordeals she valiantly underwent, centering on the encounters she had with individual doctors, medical procrastination, city bureaucracy — and, above all, daily interactions with her conservative parents , which often reduced her to a young girl ridden with guilt (the Catholic version) and blessed with an ultra-sensitive conscience.

Closely based on Kachel’s L.A. production, “God Said, Ha!” was shot in two days. As director, Sweeney has the good sense to not endow the monologue with an elaborately “cinematic” treatment, avoiding customary visual devices and totally relying on the quality of the material. The strategy pays off: The audience is never distracted by any superfluous gimmick.

Sweeney benefits from having performed the work for an extended period of time; there’s hardly a false note — or move — in the entire monologue. A terrific entertainer who knows exactly when a change of tone or mood is called for, Sweeney moves smoothly from light comedy to broad farce, from melodrama and sheer pathos, and back again.

Tech credits are good, particularly Fabienne Rawley’s splendid editing, which enriches the piece with a variable texture and mood.

The title alludes to a card Sweeney received from a close friend while she was sick.

God Said, Ha!

(Performance piece)

Production

An Oh Brother production. Produced by Rana Joy Glickman. Executive producer, Quentin Tarantino. Co-producer, Greg Kachel. Directed, written by Julia Sweeney, based on Greg Kachel's stage production of Sweeney's play.

Crew

Camera (Fotokem color), John Hora; editor, Fabienne Rawley; music, Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Gail Bennett; art directors, Steve Joyeur, Caylah Eddleblute; set decorators, Thom Biggert; costume designer, Mary Zophres; sound (Dolby), Craig Woods; line producer, Dawn Todd; associate producer, Mark Friedman; assistant director, Stephen Wren. Reviewed at South By Southwest Film Festival, Austin, Texas, March 14, 1998. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Camera (Fotokem color), John Hora; editor, Fabienne Rawley; music, Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Gail Bennett; art directors, Steve Joyeur, Caylah Eddleblute; set decorators, Thom Biggert; costume designer, Mary Zophres; sound (Dolby), Craig Woods; line producer, Dawn Todd; associate producer, Mark Friedman; assistant director, Stephen Wren. Reviewed at South By Southwest Film Festival, Austin, Texas, March 14, 1998. Running time: 85 MIN.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more
Post A Comment 0