Review - A Blistering Indictment of What Passes for “Culture” Today – Edgy, In Your Face and Extreme ("God Bless America")
“Why do you gotta be so rude all the time?” “Why do you gotta be so mean all the time?” These two questions – and the lack of an answer – are the crux of the issue at the center of “God Bless America,” Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film.
Goldthwait,- stand up comedian/actor/talk show set destroyer – has proven himself time and again one of the most interesting directors working in film today. Working with small budgets and a cadre of close friends behind and in front of the camera, Goldthwait has turned out some of the most daring and personal films of the last decade. 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie” questioned whether honesty really was the best policy in human relationships. 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad” was a devastating look at the search for fame and the price one is willing to pay. It was “Faust” for the new millennium.
Now Goldthwait comes along to pose a few questions - What happened to America? When did we start turning on each other? When did we turn to other’s peoples failures for entertainment? When did we start putting up with our obnoxious children’s demands? When did we stop talking to each other and start screaming and laughing at one another?
These are questions that Frank (the brilliantly ordinary Joel Murray) starts to ask after he’s fired from his job, can’t get his daughter to visit him, and receives horrible news from his doctor. Franks has put up with a lot over the years, and he’s had it. After contemplating taking his own life, he decides it many be better to take a few others first. He’s gonna kill some people – but only those that deserve it. People like the obnoxious teen brat of a “My Sweet 16th” clone. People like the parents who spoiled her. People like those who use their cell phones in movie theatres.
Frank is joined on his spree by a young girl (Tara Lynne Barr) who witnesses his first killing. She agrees with him and slowly becomes the daughter he wishes he had - a daughter who wants to spend time with him – as he mows down a bigoted preacher protesting at a Vet’s memorial. Together, they take out an obnoxious conservative television commentator and, in the film's finale, interrupt a taping of “American Superstarz” with an AK-47 and a couple of automatic pistols.
Goldthwait spares no one in this film. Thinly veiled representations of the likes of Fred Phelps or Sean Hannity and programs like “American Idol” all get their comeuppances - but so do their followers or viewers. To quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The limitations of a small budget are more than offset by the performance of Joel Murray. Murray shines as Frank, and the film’s best moments are when Frank simply expresses his feelings – feelings that are no doubt Goldthwait’s and feelings that Goldthwait hopes will resonate with others.
Seek this film out, but be prepared to take a long, hard look in the mirror when it’s over.
"God Bless America" opens this weekend at Landmark's Bridge Theatre in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Check your local listings for a theatre near you.