Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Written By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke
What is funny? A simple question that is nearly impossible to answer. Comedy is that unique genre that suffers from the curse of subjectivity. Subjectivity in what is consider funny as well as what you can make fun of. Some feel certain topics are taboo while others, like myself, feel anything is up for grabs if it’s done in the right context. One proponent of that mindset is Bobcat Goldthwait who is quickly becoming the Indie film guru of dark comedy. His latest film God Bless America is a twisted tale of a man who attempts to fight back against the ills of our society. No this isn’t his take on Death Wish or The Punisher as the target in this isn’t the criminal underbelly, but rather the true sign of the downfall of our civilization. I’m speaking of course of things like reality shows who celebrate horrid people in such a way they make heroic acts out of the most wretched behavior. News programs that are more concerned with shouting their own opinion at you then listening to reason, and of course overblown talent shows that poke fun at the most downtrodden who dare to dream big. Sure these targets have not gone unchallenged before now. The difference is Goldthwait’s scorn for these failings reads as a diatribe of the discontent that is more ambivalent then angry. While this isn’t necessarily breaking new ground the earnestness in which it is made makes what could have been puffed up satirical comedy into a very low key intimate story.
In the film Joel Murray plays Frank a middle aged man attempting to make sense of the world he now finds himself in. He is a divorcee in a dead end job with a daughter who is more concerned with getting a new I-Phone then spending time her father. He attempts to escape from this dreariness by watching TV in hopes of finding some form of enjoyment. Instead of finding escapist entertainment he finds a world he cannot understand. Television programming that lost its respect for humanity and rejoices both our ability to be mean to one another as well as the endless amount of stupid things people willing do in hopes of finding fame. During this sequence we see parodies of real life shows like Real House Wives, American Idol, Fox News, and Jackass. What’s interesting about these parodies is how true to form they actually are. I’m sure if they had the budget and permission they would have just ran clips of the actual programming. These moments are mostly laugh free as we reflect on the pragmatic reality it is creating. It was a smart choice by Goldthwait as keeping this set in the real world caused the brutal temperament the film progresses towards more effective. I’m sure you have heard the common phrase, “This film is not for everyone”. Well that is certainly the case here, and it doesn’t take long to show you the dark places it is willing to go. By the opening scene you will know if this is beyond your personal boundaries. If you aren’t turned off by the opening ‘shot’ you will most likely enjoy what comes after. Shortly after the opening sequence Frank discovers he has a terminal illness and is given little time to live. One night while watching a show very similar to “My Super Sweet Sixteen” he makes a choice to do something with his remaining days. He will kill the horrible brat that is being feature on this episode. During this mission he meets up with an unlikely partner a high school girl by the name of Roxy played by Tara Lynne Barr. Roxy isn’t thrown off by Frank’s deadly mission instead she is a big supporter of Frank’s plan. Not only that she convinces Frank to broaden his horizons to rid the world of even more horrible people. Together they become a 21st century Bonnie and Clyde dedicated to rid the world of the annoying.
The strength of God Bless America begins with the performances of Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. I was glad to see that Joel Murray didn’t use this as an opportunity to do his best Taxi Drive impression. His performance had a more subdued nature as he wasn’t losing his grip on reality. Instead he was tightening his grip to release of haymaker of justice. His behavior in a way justified his actions as it was not a reaction of rage rather one of a desire for decency. One the flip side of Joel Murray’s performance is Tara Lynne Barr who was the id to Frank’s ego. Her character Roxy is rather crazy with little to no remorse for her actions. Though the far younger one in the relationship she is steering the ship and the one with the more vindictive motivations. When watching the story and their relationship develop I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s Super. The relationship here is very similar to the relationship Rain Wilson and Ellen Page have in that film. Beyond that Super serves as a great companion piece to God Bless America. The overall themes and the way they treat violence are very similar. One difference between the two films however is the underwriting purpose. Super doesn’t really try to ‘say’ anything, but God Bless America does. I’m just not sure how truly effective it was at getting its point across. Bobcat Goldthwait has indicated he wanted this to be a violent movie about kindness. You defiantly see flourishes of that , but the aim is so broad at times the target is not perfectly clear. Also the pace does meander some as it seems unsure to where it wishes to go next. It does pick up rather quickly to lead into what I felt was a rather satisfying conclusion. Even though it didn’t completely succeed it did enough to make me enjoy the story that was being told.
We are knee deep in summer movie season where the big blockbusters are the king. Surely those films bring their own form of enjoyment, but it’s good at times to take a break from the big budgets and watch something on a smaller scale. Independent films are easily overshadowed especially during this time of year. It’s great at times to bring one to light to provide a break from the overblown. God Bless America is made for a specific audience that will understand the humor and what it is trying to say. Although that will limit the overall scope of the film the focused objective makes the missions effect that much stronger. Bobcat Goldthwait is proving to a director who is devoted to his vision no matter who will object.