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God Bless America (2012)

August 3, 2012

8/10 Moral Crosshairs

About damn time.

God Bless America is about a single father with a good job, a spoiled daughter, and an ever-increasing intolerance towards the warped society we’ve created. Then our single father has a bad day. He gets fired from his job for sending flowers to his co-worker, his doctor tells him he has an inoperable brain tumor, and his neighbors still won’t shut the eff up. So he goes home, surfs through one deplorable reality show after another because there’s nothing else on, and then he puts a gun in his mouth. But just as he’s about to pull the trigger, My Super Sweet 16 comes on. Realizing the “good” that can be done and what little he has to lose, he spits out the muzzle, steals his neighbor’s car, and heads out to off the said teenager. And so with the unlikely help of his biggest fan (a 16-year-old girl), he begins his cross-country killing spree to rid the world of everyone we could do without: the mean ones.

It’s a lot like Super actually, only better in every way.

Back when I lived in Manhattan, rarely a day went by without me experiencing what I like to call “Groundhog Day moments.” Moments when I fantasized about taking a pair of scissors, cutting through the headphones of the ignoramus standing next to me on the train blasting Rihanna so loud that reading a book became an immediate non-option for everyone on board, and not worrying about the repercussions/ass-kickings that followed because I’d just end up repeating the same day anyway like Phil Connors. Once or twice it got so bad that I actually made those fantasies a reality by verbally unloading on the most intolerable of commuters, and while I choose to believe I won those battles, reasoning with the unreasonable is a war hard-won.

The point is: I’m all for toleration and acceptance, but some people just have their heads up their asses and there aren’t enough people out there doing their part to either, A) pull them out for some much-needed fresh air, or B) calling them out for being the roto-rooters they are. Perhaps I’ve just grown hard from having lived in The Big Apple for so long, but I think that we all have these urges at one time or another: to throw self-preservation to the wind and let loose on the inconsiderate.

And that’s what’s great about writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, because he’s tired of reasoning, too. Interestingly enough, the crux of the story in God Bless America and the initial breaking point for our overnight vigilante of the hour is none other than William Hung of all people, or at least the fictional equivalent of William Hung. While part of me finds it odd that so much of this story revolves around the infamy Hung gained through American Idol, it does make perfect sense. Contestants like William Hung were the only reason I ever started watching that show, and the more I think about it, the more ashamed I am. That poor kid got paraded around for us like a tone-deaf jester, and a whole lot of us ate it right up because it was easier to laugh than to consider how we’d feel in his shoes. It was a bully mindset that got William Hung famous, and the worst part is that it’s only gotten worse.

The fact is, for everything that’s great about the world we live in, it’s gotten pretty malicious and ass-backwards over the years. Making a sex tape will make you famous, FAIL is the new WIN, and the most popular books in the country are not only horribly written, but are about vampire girlfriends with low self-esteem and subordinate sex slaves with low self-esteem. Once upon a time, our culture was one that reveled in our own achievements, turned model citizens into role models, and celebrated the worthwhile contributions that made us better. Not to say that those days are long gone, but all too often it feels like we’ve stepped into Bizarro World, like we’re on one big episode of The Gong Show and everyone’s lining up to be next.

Now, before you go throwing that stone, let me be clear Goldthwait’s solution is not for us to cash in on that Second Amendment and get a firing squad ready for The Bad Girls Club. If it’s a call to arms, it’s an innocent one, about as innocent as Jonathan Swift’s push to get Brits to eat their babies. It’d be a much finer line to walk if it wasn’t clearly a dark comedy, but if American Psycho taught us anything, it’s that killing people wholesale can be pretty hilarious. On the other hand, it can be a tough movie to take lightly thanks to certifiable quacks like James Holmes and Anders Behring Brevik who could watch this and use it as a manifesto of sorts. But potential sociopathic/homicidal dangers aside, it’s the intent that matters most here, and the intent proves effective.

Believe you me, America’s Got Talent will look like the antichrist after this is over…which is incidentally close to what it looked like beforehand.

Unfortunately, intent and execution are two different things, as it does go from preaching-to-the-choir to crazy-guy-with-a-megaphone-on-the-street-corner in terms of who ends up in the dead pool. For all of Goldthwait’s royally astute observations and criticisms of the people, shows, and mentalities that keep bringing us down and yet we keep buying into, he eventually turns his focus to people who give high-fives, people who liked Juno, and people who drink Red Bull. Unless everyone hates me and I don’t even know it, there are times when it sounds like Goldthwait has it out for the lot of us and it’s time to start running down the Naughty List…except for Alice Cooper, who is nothing short of a living god to Bobcat Goldthwait. Maybe that’s the point, that we could all afford to be better, but as someone who loves a good high-five, high-ten, or the rarely-realized high-thirty, it does seem more like undeserved hate.

But that’s not most of the time. Most of the time those who get it have it coming. It’s kind of strange to be smiling along and nodding in approval whenever someone gets whacked, but by the same token, that is totally the risk you run when you park across two spaces. Seriously, who does that?

So it meanders quite a bit, it’s terribly long-winded to boot, and as far as dark comedies go, it pales in comparison to Goldthwait’s last effort – the highly under-appreciated and keeps-getting-better-every-time-I-see-it stroke of morbid genius – World’s Greatest Dad. But even if it is a low 8, even if the ending could have stepped down off its soapbox, and even if its storyline doesn’t quite maximize on its potential, that’s okay, because at the end of the day, God Bless America is fighting the good fight. It taps into something that’s both pretty effed up and wildly relatable, and then pours out a brew that’s just ripe for the chugging. Doesn’t hurt that Joel Murray (brother to Bill) is solid as Frank, nor does it hurt that Bobcat Goldthwait might be one of the funniest guys on the planet these days.

Anyway, the lesson of the day here is a lesson worth repeating: it’s so easy to turn the channel, it’s so easy to be civilized, and it’s so easy to just be nice. It’s far later than I would have liked, but it really is high time that America had this kind of common sense slapped/shot into it. For the record, I don’t agree with Frank and Roxy on everything, and I’ve never been a fan of the “so-and-so deserves to die” frame of mind. But, if we ever needed a mirror to look into, now sure is the time. Something has gone terribly wrong when the assholes keep finishing first.

So for anyone who’s ever watched TMZ and felt embarrassed for the human race, this one’s for you.

Great soundtrack, too.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2012 10:19 am

    Not sure I’ll see this movie, (I didn’t even know Goldthwait was making movies) but as usual I enjoyed your review AND commentary.

    • August 3, 2012 12:16 pm

      Haha. Well thanks! Check out World’s Greatest Dad though if you can. It’s better than this, and as someone who thought Goldthwait’s stand-up was nothing short of grating, it’ll give you a whole new respect for the guy.

  2. August 3, 2012 10:27 am

    Keep hearing good things and will have to check this out 😀

  3. August 4, 2012 1:05 am

    I agree, love the film, love the review. i was shocked to see a few critics give it negative reviews based on moral offense. I don’t think they get it. It’s a fantasy fulfillment comedy. We’ve all wanted to kill bill o’ reilly at some point.

    • August 8, 2012 9:07 am

      Thanks! And you are right on the money. Total fantasy fulfillment movie that works like gangbusters because we’ve all had the same epiphanies as Frank at some point or other. I can see how some would be offended by it, but come on, lighten up, right?

  4. August 4, 2012 3:19 am

    Amazing movie!

  5. August 5, 2012 9:48 am

    Great review Aiden. I really enjoyed the dark humour and insanity of this. Loved the Network inspired ending. Unfortunately the film will get cast aside in the wake of Aurora but in time I’m sure it’ll gain a worthy cult status.

    • August 8, 2012 8:56 am

      Thanks! As did I. Doesn’t quite measure up to the humor and ending in World’s Greatest Dad, but I was laughing alright. And I agree, I think the same can be said for Goldthwait’s writing/directing career in general. Just remember, dude: we were there first before the masses caught on.

  6. August 6, 2012 12:38 am

    Fun review. They have this on iTunes right now; I’m going to get it 🙂

    • August 7, 2012 6:29 pm

      And I did. Hilarious and brilliant film. I feel there’s an inner Roxy in me 🙂

      • August 8, 2012 8:53 am

        Haha! Way to go! Glad you liked it, and I think there’s an inner Roxy in all of us these days.

  7. natetreese permalink
    August 15, 2012 10:23 am

    I’d heard about this one, but I was gonna skip it. You’ve convinced me to otherwise.

  8. Fred J. permalink
    September 15, 2012 9:22 pm

    Started with a good idea and just kept veering off course. Started as an B and steadily dropped to a double F. I had hoped both characters simply blew themselves away midway through to end this clunker. Bobcat, please stick to playing idiots in second rate comedies and leave the writing to people who know how to actually construct a proper script. Again, I give this a double F!!

    • September 17, 2012 5:48 pm

      Boy, that is a harsh rating! Still, it definitely doesn’t veer HARD towards the preachier end of things, and I can totally see how that would change your whole opinion of the movie. Not an easy movie to come to universal agreement upon on any front really. HOWEVER, Bobcat is SO much better now than when he was doing stand-up. Did you see World’s Greatest Dad?

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