Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America

A couple of years ago a conversation about movies between some friends and I led ’round to the movie Falling Down, which I had not seen since its initial release on VHS in, oh about 1994 or so. I remembered very little about Falling Down save for a few key scenes that left a favorable and rather iconic impression on me. I found my friends had not ever seen the film and I made plans to have them over again in a week’s time for a viewing.

The night of the viewing we made some snacks, caught a buzz and sat down to watch Michael Douglas beat some ass. I loaded the film – now on DVD – and we all sat back to enjoy. Then something unexpected and really rather awful happened. The words “A Joel Schumacher Film” appeared during the title sequence.

My stomach dropped.

Suddenly I realized that this film, which I’d first seen as a seventeen-year old, was actually going to be quite awful on second viewing. And it was. Except for a few well-played scenes it is a typical Schumacher catastrophe, complete with trite plot conventions, a ridiculous excuse for a narrative and just overall, overblown mismanagement of a potentially fantastic concept. Now, almost twenty years later the essence of that concept has been picked up by writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait with his new film God Bless America and as anyone who has seen his other films will most likely readily believe, justice has been served.

God Bless America is at once a laundry list of much that is wrong with our culture, and also a cautionary tale meant to follow through the most hyperbolic response to that list by those frustrated enough to not want to play along yet unable to look away while the walls of our new-Roman empire literally tumble down around our ears. My bet is a lot of people interested enough in this film to be reading this article have felt the stinging frustration of our narcissistic culture; a culture obsessed with celebrating its worst qualities on the national stage, rewarding the stupid and promiscuous as beloved icons, and just generally approaching everything and everyone as expendable and meaningless. While millions drown in a fumbling economy and increasingly isolated existences the absolute worst we have to offer become examples of something to achieve. If that is indeed the case then I’d also bet that those readers can identify with the occasional uncharitable thought pertaining to some of these ‘celebrities’ paraded before us on a never-ending basis, day after day as we log in to our email, head out for an evening’s entertainment or simply wait in line at the grocery. Thoughts such as, “you know, I wish someone would just put the kardashians out of all of our misery“. Well, if that’s the case, Bobcat may not have made this movie for you, but you will feel as though he did.

I don’t want to come off as though I’m glorifying violence, just as I’m fairly certain Bobcat wasn’t trying to glorify it with this film. However, it’s fun to get a little catharsis from time to time, and where falling down got the concept all wrong, God Bless America gets it all right. The basic premise is Frank Murdoch, played by Joel Murray, is a divorced vet who receives word that he has a fatal brain tumor. Disgusted by sleepless nights spent surfing the tv, drowning in the culturless dross and virtual inhumanity that makes up pop culture only to have to pull it together in the morning in order to clock in at a dreary job populated by folks who exemplify and celebrate those terrible tv realities, Frank uses his death sentence as an excuse to kill himself. But then, just before he eats a bullet Frank  gets an idea. In what is one of the most applause-inducing yet quietly disturbing scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a film, Frank tracks down a teenage girl showcased on a reality show about rich, spoiled brats and executes her. Now, that may sound terrible – and it is, but it is also something that needs to be experienced in the context of the rest of the film, wherein it almost seems… rationale? That’s not the word, but its not that far off either. Another teenage girl, Roxy (played by Tara Lynne Barr), witnesses this act and soon Frank finds he has stumbled across a kindred spirit. Against his better judgment he let’s Roxy talk him into embarking on a weeding out of those they deem worthy of similar executions and the film becomes a road movie, equal parts Natural Born Killers and the good parts of falling down, tempered and revitalized by the state of the world today.

God Bless America is an uncomfortably funny movie, with laugh out loud moments and a sinister talk-back narrative wherein we are, like Frank, often left to ponder if our very relationship with the film makes us part of the problem or – perhaps more importantly – if it’s not us per se that’s broken but the very mechanics underlying our twenty-first century paradigm of civilization. If you thread a bolt and its slightly, almost imperceptibly off you might not see the skewed results immediately, but somewhere down the line something’s gonna give. God Bless America made me question whether here and now in 2012, we might just be at that point with our entire existence in this country. And movies that make you question your reality are always a plus in my book. God Bless America has the added benefit of very likeable characters and Bobcat’s trademark humor.

Thank you Mr. Goldthwait – a fine effort once again!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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