GOD BLESS AMERICA
Frank (Joel Murray) is saddened and enraged by the downward spiral of American culture. Divorced, recently fired, and diagnosed with a brain tumour, Frank truly has nothing left to live for. But instead of taking his own life, he takes out his frustration on a particularly shrill and nasty high school student. The scene is witnessed by another high-school student, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who wants to team up with Frank in a mission to start ridding America of nasties - one by one. Together they embark on a nationwide assault on some of America's cruellest and nastiest characters - on and off the air, including the judges of a national talent quest who made fun of an inept entrant.
Review by Louise Keller:
A satirical road trip in which the problems of modern America form the stops along the way, New York comedian Bobcat Goldthwait's film has an arresting start, but loses its impetus as the pedal is pushed to the floor. The concept is bold and black with occasional flashes of brilliance and of course there is the novelty of its shock value. Targeting pop politics, celebrity and TV reality shows, the film puts the spotlight on what's ridiculous about our society, asking what point has civilization, when people cannot be civil to each other. It's a shame therefore that the film does not work better as a whole; by the end, the constant infliction of 'the big dirt nap' becomes (dare I say) a bit of a bore. You know what they say about too much of a good thing.
The film's beginning is especially effective, when we are introduced to Frank (Joel Murray), a divorced middle aged man with a paunch, who lives in an apartment with paper-thin walls, through which he hears the moronic couple next door and their constantly screaming baby. As his migrane gets worse and the standard of TV reality shows reaches its all time low when a woman removes and throws a used tampon as a weapon, his fantasies of guns and bloody revenge against society begin. Just as he uses the office stapler as his imaginary assault rifle on his co-workers, his meaningless life gets considerably worse when he is fired from his job, quickly followed by a dire diagnosis from an unsympathetic brain specialist.
The target of his first killing-statement is Chloe (Maddie Hasson), a brattish, rich TV reality show starlet, whose obnoxious behaviour is emulated by Frank's pre-pubescent daughter Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith), throwing a tantrum because her mother buys her a Blackberry instead of the iPhone she craves. Even suicide does not work out for Frank, as Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), an angelic-faced teenager, whose appetite for blood and revenge rivals Frank's own, bursts into his life, becoming his confidant and conscience.
Much of the film is about the relationship between Frank and Roxy and while some of it works (like the scene in which they practice target shooting using oversize teddy bears strapped to random trees), much of it becomes rather tedious and repetitious. The scene in the movie theatre, in which Frank and Roxy express their distaste for the thoughtless, rude patrons who use their mobile phone and make inconsiderate noises through the feature makes a valid point, as does the running gag about Steven Clark (Aris Alvarado), the fat, simpleton singer from TV's American Superstarz who sings badly out of tune and is ridiculed by audiences and judges alike.
There are moments worthy of praise and the grey matter becomes agitated from food for thought. But although it promises much, the film ultimately fails to deliver the substance, with the stream of deadly bullets making a goddamn mess but never quite hitting the artery.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Appropriately timed for Australian release in the wake of the 2012 US Presidential election, God Bless America rips off the muzzle and lets America have it with both barrels - pretty much literally. New York comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite has written some acidic monologues for Joel Murray as the nation's self appointed corrections officer about the growing air of malice that is abroad in the US, from shopping mall car parks to cinemas to homes and TV shows. And while the examples in the film are made up, they are uncomfortably close to the bone - and not just for Americans.
The yappy neighbours, the shrill, self centred teenagers, the ugly group-think that permeates workplaces and social life are all denounced. In one monologue Frank asks rhetorically what is the point of having civilisation if we no longer live civilised lives. You don't have to live in America to recognise this observation.
Don't let the word monologues put you off; these rants are worthy of a radio presenter in full flight (speaking coherently about a social malaise) and they are the anchor for the film's (sometimes surreal) vision of a man wanting to clean up the joint. Or as it says on the poster, taking out the trash, one jerk at a time.
There is a daredevil sensibility to the film, but it strikes so many recognisably authentic notes we go with the flow. It's parody and satire and social caricature, all wrapped in the story of a man who believes his brain tumour will kill him - perhaps a metaphor for the social tumour that is growing in America's headspace.
One of the most potent and understated observations comes near the end when a talent show entrant reveals he would rather die than be dismissed from being seen on TV; this is the devastating truth and feeds into the underlying mindset of the screenplay.
It's a virtuoso screenplay and we are never quite sure where it will go and how it will end up, although for much of the time we are barracking for Frank even when he is being reprehensible with his gun. Yes it's outrageous but it has something important and relevant to say.
In a way, it's Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who is our proxy, a sweet enough 16 year old yearning for some excitement. She is smart and sassy and becomes Frank's back up. Like us, she recognises the truth of his arguments but her involvement is ultimately innocent, like a well wisher to a decent uncle.
Although the eccentric comic Goldthwaite (with signature high pitched vibrato comedy voice) tramples on political correctness in sometimes the most wholesome and welcome manner, he knows his moral boundaries even in this outrageous outing. He has made a sobering comedy, a darkly comic tragedy and a socially valuable scream that demands our attention (and that of the Americans). He shows that deep down, for all the whoops of God Bless America across the nation, it's actually 'godless America'.
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GOD BLESS AMERICA (MA15+)
CAST: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Rich McDonald, Andrea Harper, David Mendenhall
PRODUCER: Jeff Culotta, Sean McKittrick
DIRECTOR: Bobcat Goldthwait
SCRIPT: Bobcat Goldthwait
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bradley Stonesifer
EDITOR: David Hooper, Jason Stewart
MUSIC: Matt Kollar
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Natalie Sanfilippo
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15: Melbourne (Cinema Nova), Adelaide (Mercury Cinema), Hobart State Cinema); December 6: (Dendy Newtown): Sydney, December 13: Perth (Luna Palace)
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.