God Bless America Review: Don't You Hate Pants?!
Bobcat Goldthwait constantly challenges his audience as a filmmaker. He’s controversial without making the controversy the only salient point of the film — he writes dark, bleak comedies with uncomfortable characters and plots that are genuinely character-driven. World’s Greatest Dad isn’t about a teen dying from autoerotic asphyxiation - it’s about a narcissistic father using his son’s death to garner sympathy and praise for his own mediocre writing. His latest film, God Bless America, takes on the culture of cruelty. It’s Natural Born Killers if Joel McHale and Jon Stewart decided to go on a killing spree taking down the people they mock. It’s a scowl at shameless reality television culture and the mindless re-spewing of the pundits and talking heads and disc jockeys. We’ve become a culture obsessed with knocking each other down until we’re all wallowing in the mud. Goldthwait’s film - like anything based on a rage-filled grocery list of why we suck - dallies at moments in the preachy and pedantic. It’s not a brand new thought that the people on reality television shows are complete fuckwits who spend all their time rewarded for being trashy or that people recycle the ideology of shockjocks and pundits as if they’re excerpts from the Dalai Fucking Lama. And, as is the case when anyone goes scattershot listing what they hate, they’re bound to target things you kinda like. However, Goldthwait seems aware of that presumed hypocrisy, and so it’s forgivable, particularly when taken in the context with the many, many flawlessly executed moments in the film.
Frank’s (Joel Murray) having a pretty fucked life. He’s a fat dumpy loner, divorced from a wife who’s raising their spoiled child, surrounded by mouthbreathing morons at work and at home, and resigned to ingesting to being bukakked by the hatefest that is non-scripted programming. On “Tough Girlz,” two skanky twentysomethings screech out a bitchy argument, which ends in one pulling out her bloody tampon and throwing it at her roommate. We watch countless politicos decrying the communization of America. We see a fat possibly mentally-handicapped William Hung wannabe (Aris Alvarado) caterwauling through his embarrassing audition on “American Superstarz.” Frank fantasizes about busting down the door of his braindead neighbors and shotgunning them down, using their squalling infant as a skeet target. Instead he wakes up to his car parked in by his dickhead neighbor, who pisses and moans about having to leave the house.
Things quickly get worse for Frank, as in short progression, he loses his job and finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor. His daughter doesn’t want to visit for the weekend, and calls him later shrieking because her mother bought her a Blackberry and she wanted an iPhone. Did I mention she’s nine? This may seem like piling the pathos, but Goldthwait puts a brilliant sheen on everything - building a superb fireworks display. Frank finally reaches his boiling point while watching a spoiled teen have a meltdown ala “My Super Sweet Sixteen” because her father didn’t buy her an Escalade. This would be even more of an example of Goldthwait’s genius…if it didn’t actually happen on the show it lampoons. That’s not a criticism; creating satirical dopplegangers of the downfall of humanity through documentary television doesn’t require changing much. We’re already in hell. Enjoy your spray-on tan and Louis Vuitton handbag full of airplane liquor and Bichon Frise shit.
Frank steals his neighbor’s car and tears ass down to Virginia to find this girl and punish her, in one of the greatest fucking scenes committed to celluloid. Here, he meets Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a foul-mouthed sixteen year old full of as much hate and indignation as Frank. Frank and Roxy end up teaming up, and decide to go on a killing rampage, Eeyore Clyde to frantic bounding Tigger Bonnie, murdering those people who are poisoning society. It’s here where the film starts to lose some of its glisten. Goldthwait wisely avoids setting up any kind of sexual relationship between Roxy and Frank - in fact, he goes out of his way to prevent it. And while the initial targets seem to be terrible people - reality TV harpies, right-wing hatemongers, Westboro Baptists, game show judges - Roxy’s introduction starts expanding the killing pool. People who talk in movie theaters, people who give high fives, people who listen to Green Day and Fall Out Boy. By the time they’re giving their rant about Diablo Cody being “a stripper with too much self-esteem,” it’s gotten to be petty. Again, Goldthwait kind of acknowledges the hypocrisy and kind of makes self-aware nudges about it, but we’ve gotten way off range. You aren’t a serial killer just because you kill a bunch of people; you have to have a calling card. Plus, if you go so broad with your scorn, you’re bound to hit targets that not everyone agrees with.
Joel Murray has his big brother Bill’s sad sack grumbling badger sensibility but it’s packaged in John Candy’s loveable bear body. He’s terrific as Frank, a killer with a heart of gold and a heart of cold black coal and one heart-attack away from a cold black death. Tara Lynne Barr is kind of the honor-student version of the manic pixie dream girl, and she’s got such wonderful energy, but this character’s been done better. Frankly, she’s a dime-story version of Hit Girl and while her character scorns Juno, she can’t hold a hamburger phone to Ellen Page in Super. There’re a million fucking cameo appearances if you’re paying attention - from Frank Conniff as a Glenn Beck clone to Tom Kenny as a co-worker to Jack Plotnick as a Party Planner - and many, many simply magnificent satirical flourishes. The best has to be the Steve Clark arc as played through the movie by Aris Alvarado. He could have been a one-note throwaway joke - the William Hung satire - but instead his story becomes an effect parallel for the film.
There’s so much to love about God Bless America, even with the necessary low-budget appearance. And no shit, because with the dark subject matter, no studio’s touching this motherfucker with a ten-foot pole. It’s insanely satisfying to watch them drive over a bunch of people waving God Hates Fags posters, white trash rednecks getting gunshots in the back as they sprawl. It’s even more satisfying to watch the two heroes turn guns on a bunch of rude moviegoers. How their killing spree is being documented by the media is just one of the many sterling touches Goldthwait brings. The problem is just that when you’re ranting about everything you hate, you’re going to overlap with stuff that people like. No one’s going to cry when you cram a homophobe into your wheelwell. But Fall Out Boy? Because Alice Cooper’s awesome? And how many sixteen year olds really are that devoted to Alice Cooper? Instead, it feels like the masturbatory fantasy of a fortysomething, which means the entire film is in Frank’s head, and makes it a masterpiece on par with even the lowliest Charlie Kaufman. Also, because of the very nature of my position as a critic, I’d be one of the hatemongers and mockers who deserve execution. And while there are plenty of folks on this site who’d love to see me get the Sonny Corleone in a Krispy Kreme drive-thru, just remember. Laughing about it makes you a target too. Which means that anyone who gets joy out of the murder of the idiots in the film and mocks their deaths makes them culpable to the very culture that the murderers are trying to eliminate. It’s the only sour note in an otherwise ballsy and purely enjoyable film.