Thursday, October 25, 2012

God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America is the kind of satire we don’t get often enough. It’s rough around the edges, sure, but it also contains enough truth, enough anger, and enough balls to really say something worth saying. What it’s saying isn’t anything new, but that’s okay. The point of the movie is that America has devolved into a celebration of the loudest, stupidest, and meanest among us. Its surface target is reality TV, but it extends down to the stupidity and selfishness we are faced with on a daily basis as well.

At its core it contains a superb performance from Joel Murray as Frank, a depressed man who’s just found out he has a terminal brain tumor. Fired from his job for trying to do something nice for a co-worker that was misinterpreted as creepy, living next door to a white trash couple whose baby is always crying while he lays awake with insomnia and migraines, Frank has reached the end of his rope. Before committing suicide, Frank decides to take a few along with him for the ride, starting with ungrateful reality TV star Chloe, who Frank sees screaming at her dad for daring to buy her a Lexus for her 16th birthday instead of the Cadillac she wanted. When angry teenager Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) witnesses Frank’s killing of Chloe, she convinces him to let her go along with him as they kill people, but “only people who really deserve to die.” Hijinks, of a sort, ensue from there as the duo make their way across the country towards the studio of American Superstarz, the American Idol stand-in that Frank so despises.

The best part about the movie is the brilliant opening 30-40 minutes or so. While the remaining hour isn’t exactly slouching, it doesn’t have the manic ferociousness that the beginning has. I thought maybe Goldthwait would lead us somewhere new as we went along, but really it was just a reiteration of the offenses he presents in the first few moments of the movie. It’s done nicely, but I kinda wish there’d been more as it went along. To be sure, Goldthwait fills the movie with plenty of bitter outrage at what we’ve let our pop culture become, but he doesn’t really have much to add other than “we should be nicer.”

The performances by our two leads are wonderful, Murray in particular makes you realize he’s always been much more than just Bill’s little brother. He’s funny as hell, but also lets plenty of pathos into the mix, as we really feel Frank’s depression. Barr’s character is a little too “psychotic Juno” at times, though maybe by design. Frank even calls her Juno during one scene. But that’s an issue with the character, not with Barr’s terrific work pulling it off.
Yeah, the characters all talk alike, and we don’t really see anything astounding directorially, but the overall feel of the movie is one of freshness and a curious sense of wondering where it was all going to go. I was certainly never bored. And this kinda makes me want to check out more of Goldthwait’s directorial work, since this is his fifth feature. I’ve listened to some of his stand up lately (thank you Pandora) and realize he’s got much more depth to him than Police Academy’s Zed would’ve ever made you think.

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