NEW TO HULU! Scott Brignac’s Playing God, starring Alan Tudyk and Michael McKean, to be honest, is not really a comedy. I didn’t laugh once, yet it’s outstanding. It follows a pair of con-artist twins, Micah (Luke Benward) and Rachel (Hannah Kasulka), who swindle suckers for petty cash. That is until Rachel learns (in the worst way) that Micah owes over $200K to the evil, hot-tempered Vaughn (Marc Menchaca).
Rachel reluctantly agrees to help Micah pull a “heavenly” con on a wealthy billionaire, Ben (Alan Tudyk), who wants to speak with God about the random death of his daughter. Micah and Rachel pose as “angels” in hopes of meeting with Ben. Although Ben doesn’t believe in “angelic” personas, in an act of desperation, he calls their bluff and insists on speaking with God directly. Micah suspiciously accepts the offer, and now the “con” and panic set in. Micah and Rachel immediately turn to their surrogate father, Frank (Michael McKean) — the man who was their mentor and upped their con game — and recruit him to pose as God to Ben.
There are two elements to the story. The most obvious is the con. How does our conniving and desperate trio convince Ben that Frank is God? They go down a very familiar road if you’ve ever experienced a medium or faith healer. Frank employs some very subtle cold reading skills and internet research. But, on the other hand, Ben presses harder and harder for Frank to prove he is actually God. It’s like a spiritual game of chess.
The bright spot of Playing God is that the “con” is not solely what the film is about, otherwise, it would not be getting a good review from me. Instead, the heart gets into this conflict between Ben and Frank… or Ben and God. The battle over the age-old question — if God exists, why do bad things happen to good people? To innocent children? If God does exist, then his intentions are either evil, or he just doesn’t care.
“Micah and Rachel immediately turn to their surrogate father…and recruit him to pose as God…”
I tend to feel a little apprehension when approaching films that debate God’s existence. I’m all for debate. Asking tough questions without fearing the answer is necessary for both faith and maturity. However, seeing films like this from both the faith-based and atheist viewpoint has always come off as either overly rosy/simplistic or demeaning/angry. Brignac lays right in the middle, maybe leaning slightly toward faith. The debate over God’s goodness goes on quite a while, but the story takes a twist. I didn’t see it coming (I’m generally pretty prophetic when it comes to these stories), but it’s worth the payoff. It’s a testament to Brignac’s clever writing.
If you’re an aficionado of faith like I am, Playing God asks many good questions. So much so that my brain was in overdrive to the point that I had to rewind at times because I was in my own head. A film that makes me think is always a good film in my books.
Theological elements aside, I need to talk about the cast. Luke Benward and Hannah Kasulka are good in the leads. It’s Kasulka that takes on much of the emotional heavy lifting, and as a good con-artist story, they never reveal their shifting and plot-twisting hand. The absolute joy is the performance between Alan Tudyk and Michael McKean. Only great comedians can pull off this kind of dramatic performance. Tudyk has the conflicted and faith-shaken father down ideally. McKean perfectly balances the role of con-man and God.
Playing God’s fun is because the film is not what you think and will surprise you at how excellent and heartfelt the real story is.
"…a film that makes me think is always a good film in my books."