After covering such subjects as bestiality in Sleeping Dogs Lie, and suicide martyrdom in World’s Greatest Dad, Bobcat Goldthwait returned to the big screen earlier this year with God Bless America; his darkest, violent and most scathing film to date.
Joel Murray stars as the middle aged Frank. A divorced old fart living in a crappy apartment, he spends his evenings alone in front of the box, catching glimpses of the “oh no you didn’t generation” and their fascination with celebrity culture. When he gets word that he is dying of cancer, Frank takes this as a sign from God to go out in a gung-ho blaze of glory, and kill one of the many putrid Sweet 16 brats in the area. In the process, he strikes up a companionship Roxy, a teenager equally phlegmatic with asinine society. Together, the platonic kindred spirits go on a Bonnie & Clyde killing spree across America, bumping off any vile human that gets in their way.
Nothing is off-limits for mockery in Goldthwait’s America. Not only attacking the zeitgeist pop culture, he takes aim at the indie subcultures, homophobes, and Bill O’Reilly style news commentators. Even Woody Allen and his penchant for “young hairless Asians” is a topic this tyrannical comedian feels is worth berating. Whilst some of these jokes land, it soon becomes glaringly obvious that God Bless America is a one-trick pony of a movie, relying on crass, futile rants to keep the audience engaged with the film, rather than any sort of genuine satire or development.
Brother to Bill, Joel Murray is excellent as the shlubby sad clown, making the character both compelling, funny and, at it’s darkest reflexive points, relatable. The same goes for newcomer Tara Lynne Barr, who delivers the “I hate Juno” shtick with great panache and wry reflexivity.
More than ever, we are inundated with annoying, nonsensical media entertainment. Even if, like me, you actively chose not to watch such degrading reality tripe, it still permeates everyone’s lives, and certainly dumbs down the pub conversation. Whilst Goldthwait’s script may be bursting with dogmatic arguments against this here horrible world, they are far from revolutionary thoughts. By trying to be so broadly satirical about mass culture, Goldthwait loses the subversive punch and savagery he usually excels with. Just as painfully telegraphed the ironic title is, God Bless America is so intent on being angry and polemical that it forgets to ever be entertaining.
Fun fact: One film that is currently wowing UK arthouse crowds is Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. It’s narratively similar to Bobcat’s movie: a couple travelling across pastoral England and murdering the angry village folk that they’ve grown sick of. I’m quite desperate to see it, and expect a review of that sometime around Christmas.