If comedian-turned-indie-film-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s new movie, “God Bless America,” was classic English theatre, it might instead be entitled “The Importance of Being Nice.”
But it’s not. It’s classic American wish fulfillment, an over-the-top, violent dark comedy that tells you it’s OK to solve your problems, or in this case the country’s problems, with big guns and witty one-liners. In this case, I happen to wholeheartedly agree.
I’m not a violent man, nor do I condone real-life violence, but give me a good, bloody action movie and I’m left drooling and cheering for two hours, at least during the flicks that are fully aware of their schlocky fun. “God Bless America” is not only conscious of what it’s doing, which some critics have labeled “leftist snuff,” but it’s delightfully good at it because its satiric target also happens to be an easy one.
Frank, played perfectly by Joel Murray, Bill Murray’s younger brother, can’t stand his noisy neighbors, loses his job, is snubbed by his potential love interest, hated by his ex-wife and their bratty child, and finds out he has a brain tumor. He is about to kill himself when he decides that his suicidal tendency would be much better put to use as a homicidal inclination after watching a little too much reality TV.
The marks of his killing spree – a rich, spoiled teenager; a nasty, ratings-grabbing pundit; a bigoted, hateful church group; talentless talent show hosts – all share one thing in common, besides being incredibly annoying; they are all just plain mean. In a world that is already cruel enough, Frank can no longer deal with people like this, and seriously, neither can the rest of us.
This is why he’s soon joined by Roxy, a like-minded, so really quite disturbed, young girl played by Tara Lynne Barr who is sick and tired of these attention-hungry idiots as well. She has much more to live for than Frank, but she kills with just as much gusto, so if you think you know what the outcome is going to be for these two psychopaths, you’re probably right.
But it’s not where the movie goes; it’s how it gets there. From start to finish, the dialogue serves as more of a stand-up comedy rant than a proper story-telling narrative, but that’s not a criticism. This really makes it all the more funny, and when you find yourself agreeing with many of their points, you start to view their massacre in a more sympathetic light. At one time or another, every one of us has wanted to put our hands through the screen and strangle a reality star or a hillbilly pedophile, but Frank is the one actually doing it, and he’s certainly doing it with style.
When Frank says that he only wants to kill people who “deserve to die,” he’s usually referring to people who just annoy him, but it does make you think about the influence these people have on the overall general public. What does it say about us that we’ve let it get this way, that we allow young kids to nationally humiliate themselves on “American Idol” so that we can berate them, that we watch teenage girls rip apart their parents because they didn’t get the “right car” on their sixteenth birthday, that we listen to intolerant political rhetoric from morally ambiguous talking heads? Why have we rewarded shallow, obnoxious people like this with millions of dollars and skyrocketing ratings while the little guy goes unnoticed and unappreciated?
There are a few slaying that are done more for laughs, like the guy who unapologetically takes up two parking spaces, but it’s really hard to feel sorry for any of the victims, which, in turn, makes our anti-heroes more likeable. Both actors have great chemistry and are clearly having a blast in their respective roles, staying within conventions but also poking fun at others – instead of falling in love despite their drastic age difference, as you’d have in most films of this kind, Frank lectures Roxy about how wrong it is to lust after a girl young enough to be your daughter, emphasizing that adult males should “shoot higher” than little kids when choosing a mate. If I could have hugged Murray for stating this, I would have.
Many people may be surprised to learn that this movie was written and directed by Goldthwait, probably best known for his strange, screechy voice and recurring role as Zed in the “Police Academy” movies, but he actually reinvented his career years ago as an indie filmmaker with movies like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World’s Greatest Dad.” Even his on-stage material is much darker now, and as he makes the press rounds to promote this latest film, I find myself enjoying his humor more and more, which either makes me just as cynical or just as much a George Carlin fan.
The film may be deeply cathartic for its intended audience, whether we bloodthirsty Americans want admit it or not, but it seems its creator is making no apologies for putting a bullet in the head of mediocrity:
“It’s a violent movie that’s asking for kindness. And that’s why when people go, ‘What are you going to do if people copycatted this movie?’ I’d [say,] I don’t want them to kill. But if people actually took the message away, that would be pretty rad,” Bobcat recently told HitFix.
“I thought, this movie here was the counterculture revolting against authority. And I thought, who do we have to revolt against now? And then I started thinking about everything – reality television and non-news and all that kind of stuff. And then it was just seeing things like a Tea Party guy with a sign that says, ‘We’re Unarmed, THIS Time.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy. I see your crazy and I raise your crazy.’”
From the gruesome opening scene to the final showdown, “God Bless America” is the first really offensive, controversial film of the year, and it’s about time. Any piece of art that stirs things up and gets people talking is important and worth supporting in my book, and as we gear up for the summer blockbuster season, let us not forget that smaller budgets do not necessarily mean less entertainment value. It certainly doesn’t mean less to discuss, so check it out on demand now and in select theaters on May 11.
And if you disagree with Goldthwait’s premise, that’s great, though you may want to reconsider who you’re sticking up for; it probably says a lot more about you than it does about him. I don’t foresee anyone picking up a gun because of this movie, but I do predict a few boats being rocked and a few tops being blown.
If so, then rampage accomplished.