Bobcat Goldthwait takes aim and fires at contemporary American culture in his latest picture, God Bless America. There’s no doubt the director’s intention for the film was to sting – and sting hard – but in its own weird way demonstrates a peculiar sort of ‘gonzo’ Capracorn, State of the Union address complete with Jimmy Stewart-style fillibuster speech at the finale before bowing out in a blaze of glory. These sorts of film enterprises are wide open for all manner of accusations from left and right of the political spectrum.
The film opens strongly enough with lonely middle-aged white collar worker, Frank (played by Joel Murray, brother of Bill), fantasising about killing his obnoxious and loud next-door neighbours with a shotgun. He then gets fired from his job, is told he’s got a brain tumour and will die, then lounges around watching reality TV all day before snapping. With nothing left to live for an existential freedom presents itself and he decides to do some damage. As with other films of this ilk, a man projects his own insecurities and hatreds on to society when really, all along, he’s the guy with the problem and playing the blame game.
God Bless America becomes a traditional road movie with Bonnie and Clyde flourishes whilst taking pot shots at pretty much everything. The characters are lunatics who fail to see the irony of their own fascist leanings. They list people who ‘deserve to die’ and aggrandize petty annoyances into death sentences for those they do not like. Goldthwait’s use of spoof TV clips are bang on the money; with US culture – stretching to the whole Western setup – depicted as one big celebration of mediocrity. After murdering an obnoxious high school reality TV star in a car park, Frank teams up with the cutesy but demented teenage tearway Roxy (Tara Lynne Bar) and the two travel across the land killing people they don’t like, including, rather pointedly, a Glenn Beck type whose name Fuller seems a pun on the phrase ‘full of shit’.
As with most road movies, the material is meandering and episodic. Several times it gets lost or reaches a dead end. Yet when hitting the mark it’s hilarious and sharp. Internationally this can be sold as your run-of-the-mill anti-American fare. The momentary, dewy-eyed optimism of the Obama adminstration has hardened into a reality check that nothing really has changed much from the neo-con era.
“America has become a cruel and vicious place,” says Frank, highlighting the ludicrous and romantic notion that it was once a fine and innocent country and that strong moral choices and values can rid a society of mass hypocrisy. Everything in its right place soon begins to feel oppressive. Goldthwait primarily uses his film to lambast television and infotainment and perceived corrosive effects on the masses. To quote Leonard Cohen’s song, Democracy: “I’m neither left nor right I’m just staying home tonight, lost in that hopeless little screen.” Would the world be a better place without 24-hour news, infotainment, reality TV and rude people? If anything the characters in the film are intolerant and riled by just about anything they can get their hands on. It recalls the exchange in The Wild One (1953) re-configured to ‘What do you hate?’ with the reply back: ‘Whadda you got?’
Interesting to a point and another reminder the former Police Academy star is actually a talented director, Goldthwait’s God Bless America channels the attitudes of such works as Network, Falling Down, Natural Born Killers and Team America: World Police for another slice of American madness. Just don’t expect it to say anything new.
UK Release Dates: 4th July theatrical & 9th July on DVD