GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Melinda Page Hamilton, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Rich McDonald, Maddie Hasson, Larry Miller, Travis Wester, Lauren Phillips, Aris Alvarado and Regan Burns.
Screenplay by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Distributed by Magnet Releasing. 107 minutes. Rated R.
It has often been proven that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he said there were no second acts in American life. But who would have thought that one of those second acts would be attained by Bobcat Goldthwait?
You remember Bobcat, the goofy, helium-voiced 80s stand-up comedian who is best remembered for his silly supporting appearances in the Police Academy movies? Eventually his stand-up career and movie gigs dried up – no great shock.
The great shock is the fact that Goldthwait changed directions and started writing and directing independent films. Even more of a shock is the fact that in the past few years, Goldthwait has created two of the best pitch-black comedies to come out of the Sundance circuit. Two years ago was World’s Greatest Dad – a shocking Robin Williams film about a guy trying desperately to be a good father to his teenaged son, who appears to be a budding sociopath.
Believe it or not, his follow up God Bless America is an even more cutting and funny – and just slightly depressing – look at modern life.
And while eventually the story somewhat gets away from him, it’s a pretty damning look at the world we live in.
God Bless America begins with a bang. Frank, an aging, divorced guy who works a boring office job he hates, lays on the couch and watches television. He is a nice, normal man, but he is just about to hit rock bottom. While suffering from one of his periodic migraines and listening to the baby next door wailing constantly through the paper thin walls, he attempts to find solace on television. Instead, he finds nothing but stupidity, meanness, antagonism and hatred.
Frank is a nice, well-meaning man, and unable to understand what happened to human interaction and feeling. He is eventually fired from his mind-numbing job when a thoughtful gesture is mistaken for sexual harassment. Then he fights with his ex about the weekend custody of his daughter, who at ten is turning into a complete brat. Finally he goes to his doctor, a compassionless man who cheerfully informs Frank that he has a brain tumor and only months to live.
He decides on suicide as his only option. Then, as a whim he decides to first symbolically kill a petulant reality TV star, one of the poster-children for the moral decay he sees all around him. The murder is witnessed by a thrill-seeking teen girl who tells him that he would be doing the wrong thing killing himself, when there are so many other people out there deserving of death.
Therefore, they go on a killing spree in which they take out everyone that is rude, stupid or vapid in modern life – killing MTV reality show skanks, people who talk in movie theaters, tea partiers, bullies, bigots, pedophiles, people who take up two parking spaces, conservative talk show hosts and fame whores.
It is sort of like a wilder, more blatantly comic version of the great forgotten 90s film Falling Down – in which Michael Douglas also plays a nice, normal, but close to the edge man who is eventually set into a violent spiral by the sheer inhumanity of the world around him. Unfortunately, remembering Falling Down does God Bless America no favors, because the older film was much more realistic and it was able to keep its modern vigilante story tight, while God Bless America starts to spiral out of control.
However, eventually the killing spree idea goes too far – even in a black comedy, there has to be some consequences to the symbolic killings. Also, it does not convince you that these two – particularly the girl – have the right to be making these choices. I know it is a comedy, but thrill-killing, even if the victims are arguably reprehensible, is way over the top.
The movie sort of goes off the rails towards the end, but it is still fascinating to see someone taking these kind of chances in a movie and doing it for the most part with so much success.
Goldthwait takes a bit of a chance in giving the lead role to Joel Murray – Bill’s younger brother who is best known for sidekick roles in 90s sitcoms Hearts Afire and Dharma & Greg. Murray was up to the challenge, he does a fine job as the everyman who just wants people be kind.
God Bless America has flaws, but it makes some very valid and troubling points about our world. And it is surprisingly funny. As Goldthwait himself said on a recent talk show appearance, a movie in which a crying baby is shot in the first five minutes (don’t worry, it’s just a fantasy sequence) is not going to become a box office smash like Avatar. You have to give the guy some credit, to put himself out there like this, make some surprisingly serious and harsh criticisms of society. God Bless America doesn’t always work, but it sure as hell isn’t boring.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 4, 2012.