Published February 1, 1999
God Said, “Ha!” written, directed and performed by Julia Sweeney, formerly the androgynous “Pat” on “Saturday Night Live,” is a one-woman show consisting of the author’s personal account of a difficult year in her life when her younger brother was dying of lymphatic cancer, she herself was being treated for cervical cancer, she was out of work and her parents and brother both moved in with her. She stands on a generic living-room set, rather like that of a TV talk show, and performs her stage show while the camera switches from one side of her to the other (occasionally slipping in and out of focus), except occasionally when a steadicam is used to circle her for no apparent reason. It is as if the cameras just happened to wander into the theatre to catch her act. An appreciative (and easily amused) live audience supplies her with a laugh track, and Quentin Tarantino (producer) gets up to present her with a bouquet when she finishes.
At least the budget can’t have been too high.
The movie hits several cultural hot-buttons with its combination of gently (and hardly) humorous stories of a “dysfunctional” (just kidding!— “Of course, we all love each other very much”) family from Spokane and the pathos of her brother’s death. Mom and Dad are lovably old-fashioned for calling pasta with marinara sauce “noodles with red topping” and their presence in the house forces Julia and her new boyfriend to sneak around like high school kids. She finds herself saying things like: “My parents are so weird; let’s go make out in the garage.” This is a real turn-on. As is the fact, interestingly, that the boyfriend, Carl, is a keen bow-hunter and she is a member of PETA. Since she is a pessimist who assumes civilization will end in some “apocalyptic nightmare,” she reflects that afterwards, “Carl would be a good choice as a mate.”
It will not have escaped the reader’s notice that the theme of the child who will not grow up is a common one in contemporary American humor, the foundation of TV shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” as well as a lot of stand-up comedy. Julia at 35, once again living with her parents, found herself thinking about independence to come when she goes away to college. “But wait a minute! I already went to college!” she says. Oh dear! But the advantage of having her parents in her house is that it gives her another excuse to delay the onset of adulthood. So, when she contracts ovarian cancer and has to have a hysterectomy, she says she had thought of her reproductive organs as “like a bright shiny bike in the garage I was totally going to ride some day. Just not yet.” Now somebody stole the bike.
It’s a significant comparison and one that lots of other adolescents in their thirties will doubtless “relate to,” but Miss Sweeney seems to have derived no useful lesson from it, or from the reminder of mortality which produced it. When the doctor tells her they can save some eggs before the removal of the uterus and fallopian tubes, so she can have children by in vitro fertilization with the help of a surrogate mother, she remarks: “Great. Now I have to meet a guy and a girl.” It’s the one line in the picture that I laughed at—perhaps because of the irony of her name’s being known to the world from the character of the sexless Pat. Pat, like grownup children and other freaks of nature, was always something to laugh at. But not too hard.