'God Forbid' revisits the Falwell sex scandal from the 'pool boy's' point of view
Review by Brian Lowry, CNNUpdated: Tue, 01 Nov 2022 15:57:02 GMTSource: CNNMaking the most of its extensive access to Giancarlo Granda, the figure at the center of it all, Hulu's "God Forbid: TheReview by Brian Lowry, CNN
Updated: Tue, 01 Nov 2022 15:57:02 GMT
Making the most of its extensive access to Giancarlo Granda, the figure at the center of it all, Hulu's "God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty" pulls back the curtain on a salacious tale of sex, lies, hypocrisy, and political intrigue -- for streaming purposes, a divine cocktail if there ever was one.
Dismissed as the "pool boy" in early media accounts, Granda and his sister Lilia depict him as having been naively swept up into the swingin' lifestyle of Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki, having met the former Liberty University heir and his spouse while providing drink service at a posh Miami hotel.
Granda proceeded to have a long relationship with Becki Falwell, alleging that her husband was fully aware of the arrangement throughout, and endeavored to create real-estate opportunities for Granda in part to keep his wife happy.
"They had this weird psychological hold over me," Granda says, while his sister -- referring to her misgivings about her brother's actions at the time -- says that when financial doors began to open for him, "I thought, 'However weird this thing started, maybe it'll turn into something good.'"
As the title makes clear, that wasn't the case, and the entire story is complicated by the political clout Falwell wielded as an evangelical leader, giving then-candidate Donald Trump a crucial endorsement during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Director Billy Corben has built an entire body of documentaries around the Sunshine state and its colorful excesses, including "Cocaine Cowboys" and "The U." "God Forbid" places him very much in the same space, using cheeky dramatic recreations to visualize the affair, combined with voiceover interviews to flesh out the details.
"God Forbid" also detours to explain the history of Liberty's founding under Jerry Falwell Sr., the younger Falwell's somewhat uncomfortable role as the scion to that empire, and the broader evolution of the evangelical movement around the issue of abortion as a political rallying point.
Granda is portrayed sympathetically, with plenty of text messages as well as input from his sister -- with whom he had shared details, per the two of them -- to buttress his account of events. He admits that he was ambitious but basically over his head dealing with the older Falwells, while being bedazzled by their money and connections. (The Falwells declined to be interviewed for the documentary.)
"God Forbid" also earns points for not overplaying its hand, telling the story in a relatively concise package -- as opposed to extending it into the increasingly popular docuseries format -- while still connecting the central scandal to the political tides with which it became inextricably linked.
Jerry Falwell resigned from Liberty in 2020, acknowledging Becki Falwell's affair with Granda, while stating he was "not involved." He also claimed that Granda had sought to blackmail the couple, a charge Granda has denied.
"God Forbid" clearly provides Granda a friendly forum to tell his story, which includes how he came out on the other side of his 15 minutes of notoriety. Whether that translated into "something good" for him, as his sister had hoped, in terms of providing the producers with a seemingly irresistible topic, it certainly has for them.
"God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty" premieres November 1 on Hulu.