Not at all what the doctor prescribed unless you’re looking for a way to feel even worse about health care.
Some movies have a tone to them, a sort of flavor that pervades the proceedings. The God Committee’s flavor is, decidedly, sour. And not just lightly so.
As a result, every performance ends up swallowed by it. Even Dr. Jordan Taylor (Julia Stiles), the one undeniably good person in the film, can’t outrace the tide. Watching Committee is an act of agreeing to dwell in unpleasant cynicism for over 90 minutes.
Adapted by director Austin Stark from Mark St. Germain’s play of the same name, the film tips its hand regarding its feelings about the source material almost immediately. The play is a chamber piece of sorts, a kind of Twelve Angry Men-esque dialogue bruiser in which people argue, pontificate, contemplate and compromise all in service of persuading others to their perspective.
The adaptation, by contrast, expands to fill two different eras and ladles on unnecessary melodrama, presumably to make it feel less stagebound. Honestly, though, if you can’t make the concept of deciding who lives and who (likely) dies interesting, well, tossing in an affair between Dr. Taylor and the much older and unpleasant Dr. Andre Boxer (Kelsey Grammer) probably isn’t going to make the difference you expect.
At question is who on the transplant list is worthy of a heart en route to the hospital. The titular committee—the departing Dr. Boxer who is all actuarial in his approach, the new Dr. Taylor, the compassionate one, Father Dunbar (Colman Domingo) a disgraced lawyer turned priest who has been sent by the board to sit in, Dr. Valerie Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo) the corrupt administrator, Dr. Allen Lau (Peter Y. Kim) the psychiatrist who keeps abstaining, and Dr. Maryanne Wilkes (Patricia R. Floyd) the initially kind but ultimately bottom-line fixated member of the group—must choose.
There are four candidates, but it quickly becomes clear the only actual choice is whether or not the cocaine abusing, domestic abusing scion of rich man Granger (Dan Hedaya) will get the organ. Granger has a 25-million-dollar donation waiting, implicitly suggesting no heart, no money.
Watching [The God Committee] is an act of agreeing to dwell in unpleasant cynicism for over 90 minutes.
Hedaya, an actor capable of excellent work, has to make the same bulldog grimace every moment he’s on-screen. In this way, he ends up the mascot of the endeavor, trapped somewhere between a pout and a scowl.
By moving the proceeding away from that conference room, Committee immediately robs the text of all its power. The stress, the intensity, the sense of claustrophobia, all of it tossed aside for a glimpse at the future that does nothing to inform the proceedings of the present and side interpersonal interactions that diminish the potency of the main characters’ debate. By the time the plot reveals not one but two fatal illnesses and not one but two secret pregnancies, the viewer will be unable to discern what is louder: the plot groaning against its own weight or the viewer’s own groans of unhappiness.
Ultimately, the only way to justify seeing this one is the chance to take in Grammer’s all-time wig. In a drab feature, it stands out as, by far, the most interesting visual element on-screen.
The God Committee is passing judgment on VOD now.