Thursday, May 17, 2012
GOD BLESS AMERICA: Cleaning Up Society One Jerk at a Time
God Bless America (2011)
Written and Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
God Bless America Official Site
There are some people who will watch God Bless America, snicker a few times, make a Facebook post during the film, and think they get it. They will stroll out of the theater, high-five, blow cigarette smoke in everyone's faces, recap their favorite moments on the way to some bar. They'll probably talk about how shitty "other people" are as they elbow their way past passersby. At the bar, they'll proceed to get shitty drunk, numbing themselves to a relatively cruel, thoughtless world they help perpetuate. They'll stumble home, shouting loudly as they walk through the neighborhood at 3 am while people are trying to sleep. The next day, they'll get up hungover, check the internet for sensational headlines, and probably do countless dumb, annoying, and rude things throughout their day. They are either unaware or uncaring of how their actions affect other people. It's a shame that they learned nothing.
Bobcat Goldthwaith's violent satire is either one of the funniest films out at the moment, or the most depressing. It's nothing if not truthful. People recognize Goldthwait for his offbeat, agitated persona. What most don't realize is that he's an accomplished filmmaker having directed numerous feature films and television shows. Goldthwait's work has always had an undercurrent of severe dark humor. One only need watch his debut, Shakes the Clown, to see evidence. His trademark acerbic wit is on full display here. God Bless America is a biting indictment of just how far down the drain our culture has gone, and Goldthwait leaves nothing out. His film is a potent and funny poke outside and within with riffs on Walter Mitty, Falling Down, Super, and Natural Born Killers.
You could say Frank (Joel Murray) is an average guy. His job isn't great, he's divorced, his kid is kind of an ass. If that's not enough, his neighbors are inconsiderate jerks, vapid pop culture is inescapable, and society in general is mean-spirited. Unfortunately, things are about to get a lot worse. An office misunderstanding finds him fired from his job and his doctor has just informed him that he has brain tumors. With nothing to look forward to, Frank contemplates taking his own life.
In a desperate moment - gun placed firmly in mouth - Frank moves the gun away from himself, and, instead, points it at society. Fed up with celebrity gossip, reality TV, able-bodied jackoffs taking handicapped parking spots, people who kick puppies, Frank chooses to spend his final days going out with a bang - one that serves to eliminate all these jerks from our ranks. Whether or not he has enough bullets remains to be seen, but Frank will go out swinging and take a few shitheads down with him .
Frank joins forces with Roxy (Tary Lynne Barr), a world-weary teen who looks to Frank as an escape from her mundane life. Gun in hand, she imagines she and Frank are the Bonnie and Clyde of the post-911 age. It's fun at first, especially when the duo offs some truly unsavory celebs. Soon, however, Frank regrets including Roxy in his spree, as he makes some realizations about himself. This doesn't stop him from planning the ultimate send off that involves a bomb and a certain popular TV singing competition.
Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr are exceptional as the spree killing team. Joel Murray has a natural abilty to illicit real pathos, and he's able to keep Frank from ever going over-the-top. As a man pushed too far, he's a bit of a paradox in that he's still able to retain a semblance of sanity and humanity. He's the guy who pulls out a gun to shoot obnoxious people in the movie theater, the one whom you might just cheer for going a little crazy. He's heat-of-the-moment, yet in full control of himself. Roxy, on the other hand, is more impulsive. She exacerbates any violent tendencies Frank might keep at bay. They make quite an odd team. She fills a void in his family life, and especially in his relationship with his daughter. Roxy looks to Frank for validation and innocent affection. Together, they are out for blood.
God Bless America is a highly entertaining, funny, and bloody film. It also has a lot to say. Some of the targets may be obvious, but it's just so much fun to see abhorent people get their comeuppance. It's by no means a perfect film. Some dialogue passages play out like extended stand up routines. There are moments where Frank is channel surfing that should be shorter, but the segments are so damn funny it doesn't matter. None of these minor criticisms take anything away from the film. Even though it's obvious we're supposed to root against homophobic religious right characters, racists, or insensitive realty show judges, it doesn't dampen the fun of seeing them blown away. It's VERY cathartic, in fact.
There is an urgency to Goldthwait's film. As he points out, many of these behaviors are indicative of a society about to go pop, as found at the end of the Roman empire. Is it time to move beyond a culture that rewards the asshole, or should we just let it crumble once and for all? Maybe something better will sprout from the rubble?
God Bless America is available to view by a number of means including VOD and iTunes, but Boston area fans can also catch it at the Brattle Theater starting May 18.
God Bless America Trailer