[Review] – God Bless America

24 May

Title: God Bless America
Year: 2012
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence and language including some sexual sequences
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Metacritic: 56

There’s no denying that God Bless America, the latest film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, is quite uneven at times, but it’s just as undeniable that the ideas put on display in such a darkly humorous way also makes it quite fun to watch. The film takes on modern American culture, and at its center there’s Frank, the character played by Joel Murray (Bill‘s brother!), a man who’s been dealt a really tough hand by life lately: he’s divorced, has just gotten fired, and may or may not be living with a terminal disease threatening to end his life any day now.

At this pretty pivotal point in his life, Frank starts getting even more frustrated with the current state of American culture that seemingly can’t be going faster down the drain. Instead of pointing a gun to his own head to resolve this frustration, however, Frank decides to aim the gun at other people’s heads, namely those tremendously stupid and ignorant people that have been collaborating so much with the deteriorating cultural state of the nation. He first aims at reality television stars who he just can’t tolerate, and actually finds himself an accomplice in Roxy, played by Tara Lynne Barr, a high-school student who’s just as fed up with it all as he is.

The approach Mr. Goldthwait takes is just super sharp and funny, by the way, and even if sometimes it seems as though he can’t keep up with his own ideas, these are still pretty great ideas on display here, and when he nails it, he nails it. What’s best is that you kind of get Frank’s attitude, in a way. I mean you obviously wouldn’t go to the extremes he does (or so I hope), but I bet that you’ve seen some trash TV lately in which some spoiled brat complained about not being as ridiculously spoiled as she wanted, or a three-feet0small fake-tanned specimen fell down a boardwalk drunk off her ass, and you’ve become enraged at the fact that these people are dictating the direction of modern culture and making millions in the process.

This is a man with nothing to lose trying to make society better by eliminating those who are making it worse and worse. I must confess, however, that much like the film that I saw yesterday, Tim Burton‘s Dark Shadows, this one starts off brilliantly and then decreases in quality noticeably. It works as well as it does because of Mr. Murray’s performance, a character actor finally having a stab at a leading role, and when the film is introducing us to him it’s at its very finest. We like the guy, we don’t see him as a stereotype of any kind, and when we see him getting annoyed at what he’s watching on TV we get why he’s pissed (you have a teenage brat throwing a tantrum because her parents got her a nice car but not the exact one she wanted), and when he articulates what ticks him off about this modern behavior he does so intelligently and we’re on his side.

When the film turns into this full-on revenge trip across America between an unemployed and dying man and a teenager not much older than the brat on TV it got to be a bit too much to me. And that’s not because of how insane that whole conceit is, but more because of how as much as I got Frank as a character, I don’t think I ever came close to getting Roxy. This girl is pretty much a teenage psychopath who signed on for the tour of violence because she witnessed Frank firing a gun and found it “awesome”.

That bit aside, this is still a good little film, even though I could see how it could have been potentially better. You have to give credit to Mr. Goldthwait because when his perceptive and intelligent dark sense of humor is firing at all cylinders it really is devilishly good, and because he manages to make us connect with these people doing horrible things by, very intelligently, making it very easy to identify which real-life figure his fictional characters are standing in for. That guilty pleasure of knowing the guy getting killed stands for Harvey Levin or something like that makes this one work.

The fact is, however, that, like I said, there’s still something preventing me from really getting into this one. Because as fun and funny and perceptive as it may sometimes be as a social commentary, this is still a movie about a couple of psychopaths going off killing people just because they don’t like what they bring to the table. It’s true that there comes a point in which Mr. Goldthwait tries to address this by sort of turning back the finger and pointing it towards the very exact people who seem to think they have the moral higher ground and pretty much saying that we’re all to blame. But I don’t know, there was just something missing here for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked God Bless America a good deal, and the first half hour or so is really pretty brilliant at times, but even if I got what Mr. Goldthwait was trying to say, and actually agreed with a good part of it, I don’t know if he went about just the right way to say it. I guess the point of all the killing is to look at society, and certainly at your own role in it, and try to figure out what you’re doing to help it in the right direction or (more likely) keep pushing it towards the wrong one. But I didn’t get this killing partnership enough, they just remained two pretty psychotic individuals to me (Roxy more than Frank, obviously), and by not achieving that sense of closeness to these characters the film, for all the good things in it, didn’t do it for me nearly as much as I wanted it to.

Grade: B

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