Never one to shy away from provocative views, Bill Maher's new, sure-to-be-controversial documentary Religulous premiered at the Toronto Film Festival the other night. Director Larry Charles -- who was uniquely clad in his copious beard, a suit and a pair of pink crocs -- and Maher were on hand to introduce the film to a sold-out, clearly partisan audience. Maher closed his brief opening remarks by saying, “Mel Gibson did a film for them; this one is for you.” (Maher and Charles sat about four rows behind me during the screening, which caused a mini-raucous among many in my section.)
Religulous gleefully takes on organized religion, as Maher does first-person interviews with everyone from a surprisingly reasonable Catholic priest to a formerly gay pastor who helps people become “normal” again to the guy who runs the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Maher is an effective, often hilarious interrogator, playfully playing devil’s advocate to a host of diehard believers, most of whom do not fare well under his scrutiny. And while there will be those who find his prodding mean-spirited and/or condescending, Maher saves his most pointed questioning for hypocrites, those who try to impose their religious views on others (which often leads to violence) or those who have made faith a profitable business venture.
Yet one question remains in the wake of this entertaining, often incisive documentary: Is Maher preaching to the choir? Religulous is unlikely to reach its target audience — the very fundamentalists that he’s grilling, including the terrorists that attacked us on 9/11. In fact, it might end up emboldening religious ideologues — a small line of picketers holding signs like “Don’t Mock My Religion” and “Make Peace, Not Maher” chanted outside the theater before, during and after the screening.
On the other hand, Maher points out that 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with an organized religion and millions more keep their faith to themselves. Is Religulous his way of empowering this large block of people to speak up before we reach a religion-induced Armageddon?
For those interested, here’s a link (of admittedly shitty audio quality) to the post-screening Q&A with Charles and Maher, who got off more than a few shots on Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Maher didn't hesitate to point out that Palin is “one of the speaking-in-tongues Jesus freaks I talk about in the film.” Download bill_maher.WMA
— Jason Gargano