To mark the occasion of the 20th movie of my Year with Greg Kinnear, I finally watched Dear God. This movie was largely responsible for launching this blog, even though I’d never seen the film. Rather, my friend and I found a steeply discounted copy of Dear God at Newbury Comics and joked about it for years. The cover promised a terrible movie, yet we dared each other to buy it every time we returned to the store (safely assuming it would still be there). We never did and I swore I would never watch the movie. But the persistence of the joke meant Greg Kinnear was never far from my mind, and provided a constant source of kindling ready for a spark (hello, Brigsby Bear) to start a project such as this.
As I mentally prepared to finally watch Dear God, I had no delusions about its quality. The trailer is terrible, and the movie has a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Dear God was going to be bad. But what kind of bad? It could either be so bad it’s bad like Salvation Boulevard or so bad it’s good like A Smile Like Yours. Taking this question to Google, I found a review of Dear God from exactly one year ago by a Tim Conway enthusiast named Tom K. The yin to my yang, Tom K reviews Tim Conway movies on a wordpress site dedicated to clowning (famousclowns.org) with a nearly identical layout as my own. He was pleasantly surprised by Dear God, and enjoyed both Tim Conway and Laurie Metcalf’s performances. He did write that “Greg Kinnear’s limited talents are stretched too thin,” but I chose to ignore this absurd statement and hope for the best…
I’m very sorry to say, my hope was not rewarded. I shouldn’t have assumed my opinions would match those found on a clowning site, nor hoped for anything good from a director named Garry with two r’s. Dear God was the worst Greg Kinnear movie I’ve watched, and possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen. The movie was sloppily edited with terrible scene transitions. The story ping-ponged between unconnected events and made no logical sense. The writers gave each of their many characters a piece of the pie, such that each had weird quirks but no real depth. The cinematography was atrocious, especially when the crew was forced to film in the ocean. The acting was terrible, with Laurie Metcalf’s attempt at a mental breakdown serving as the greatest offender. This movie was a chore, and most definitely not a labor of love.
Dear God (1996)
Dear God was directed by Garry Marshall, who has since run out of even semi-creative ideas and just makes movies about holidays (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day…will Father’s Day be next?!). The movie follows Greg Kinnear, a con man in debt to a loan shark. He also wants to ask out single-mom waitress Maria Pitillo. Trying to make $1000 on Christmas day, Greg is busted by undercover cops. He stands trial, where the judge calls him forward to crack jokes about balls (i.e., testicles). I’m not kidding, and this is the moment I knew the movie would be irredeemably terrible. Greg’s punishment is to get a full-time job for a year.
Greg starts working at the post office, in the department of undeliverable mail (i.e., mail sent to Santa, Elvis, God, etc.). This department is staffed by burnouts and oddballs, including Laurie Metcalf and Tim Conway. Metcalf had a mental breakdown as a lawyer and Conway bit a dog while delivering mail, which is why both work here. Assigned to take inventory of undeliverable goods, Greg pockets money, jewelry, and other valuables. His boss catches him red-handed, and to save his butt he mails all the goods to tenants of an apartment complex facing eviction who wrote a letter to God that Greg opened. Greg races to intercept his package, but when he arrives at the apartment complex Laurie Metcalf is randomly there. Greg is guilted into letting the tenants keep the goods. (Did you follow that?!)
Metcalf thinks Greg is doing something great by intentionally responding with kindness to people writing letters to God. She pressures Greg into helping a letter-writing girl ride a horse. Greg takes the girl to a racetrack and while she rides a horse, he’s beaten up in the stable by his loan shark.
In the next scene, 10 months have somehow passed and it’s Thanksgiving. Greg visits his blind mom in a nursing home, then crashes a mother-son mini-golf outing with the girl he likes (Maria). He teaches Maria’s son how to con his way through mini-golf. Next, Greg and his mail crew respond to a letter to God written by a man about to commit suicide. The crew searches lots of religious centers, before saving the man from drowning himself in the ocean. The man wants to kill himself because his wife died one year ago and he’s ugly. He asks “who would love me?,” to which Greg responds “a blind person” and hooks the man up with his mom. (It’s like a very poorly executed Seinfeld joke).
“Greg’s crew” opens more letters and helps more people. Greg goes on a date with Maria and takes her back to his place…only to find it trashed by the loan shark. But then the loan shark is killed by a bus and Greg is miraculously absolved of his debt. Things seem to be trending up…
But then Greg is arrested for the federal crime of opening other people’s mail. Inexplicably (like the rest of the movie’s plot developments), the trial receives tons of media attention and is expedited so as to start two days before Christmas. Metcalf opts to reprise her lawyer gig and represent Greg. What follows is supposed to pay homage to Miracle on 34th Street, but is actually the worst on-screen courtroom scene I’ve ever seen.
The prosecution demands that Greg gets prison time for opening other people’s mail. But they have literally nothing else to say. On day one of the trial, Metcalf is too nervous to say anything and just rips out pages from a legal pad. But on day two, Metcalf brings dogs to the trial and lays on the floor with them. Greg delivers a weird speech, all the mailmen and women form a protest to demand his freedom (Tom In Jail, No Mail! because his character’s name was Tom), and the judge pronounces him not guilty. Then we get a final scene where Tim Conway is restored to his mail route and apologizes to the dog he bit.
My goodness, this movie was horrible and that plot made no sense. Under what logic are con-man crimes punished by “getting a day job” while illegally opening mail is punished by considerable jail time?
Our First ‘Kinnear Jeer’
Dear God was Greg’s second movie ever, which begs the question why? Greg’s star was on the rise after a terrific debut performance in Sabrina, so why did he take this role? My first hypothesis was that Greg was willing to take any movie role he could get. After Dear God, his next two movie roles were Beavis and Butt-head Do America and A Smile Like Yours and this movie threesome seems to support my hypothesis. But as I dug deeper, my hypothesis changed.
I speculate that with the big-name stars attached to Dear God, the movie had no right to be as bad as it was. Garry Marshall had created many iconic TV series (Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days) and had directed Frankie and Johnny and Pretty Woman before helming Dear God. Laurie Metcalf was already a very accomplished actress, and Tim Conway was well-respected in the religious circles Dear God was tailored towards. With a project of this profile and his first shot to be a leading actor, I think Greg Kinnear took a reasonable gamble on Dear God.
And, to be honest, Greg’s performance wasn’t terrible even if it wasn’t good. If anything, it was nondescript. Tom K was right, Greg’s performance felt restrained and fit within a limited range. I think the reason for this was twofold. First, it was his second movie and this is the performance you give in that situation. Second, he was supposed to be the “normal one” reigning in the varying levels of crazy on display by the secondary cast. (To be clear, not even Tim Conway’s performance was great. It was just less-bad than others, and his final scene apologizing to dogs is in the running for worst scene).
Now for two nice comments. First, my favorite Greg Kinnear moment was when he got beat up by his loan shark while a little girl rode a horse. Second, Dear God was set in LA but nodded at Greg’s real-life origins by repeatedly mentioning that his character came from Indiana. That said, Greg had no high-quality acting moments. This, coupled with the unmentionably low quality of Dear God is cause for labeling this performance as our first “Kinnear Jeer.”
- Greg Kinnear isn’t in any proper Christmas movies. Instead, he’s in movies like Matador, You’ve Got Mail, and Dear God which have Christmas scenes of varying lengths. Watch any of these movies, except Dear God.
- Dear God has terrible acting, sloppy editing, atrocious cinematography, and a ridiculously illogical plot. It’s the worst Greg Kinnear movie–and maybe the worst movie ever–that I’ve watched.
- Greg’s performance is nondescript, borderline bad. The few elements of the film I enjoyed were due to the absurdity of select scenes and not due to Greg’s acting. For these reasons, Dear God is our first “Kinnear Jeer.”
- Next-up: I need a good laugh and love both baseball and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s time to watch the Bad News Bears remake. Here’s the trailer.
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