Wednesday, 4 July 2012

God Bless America

Frank is an insurance salesman living in New York who hates what America has become: An endless stream of idiocy, selfishness and exploitation of the unfortunate and disabled. But he can cope with that being on his TV, and next door, and at work, until one day he's diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal brain tumour. Franks spirals into depression, and attempts suicide... Until he sees a spoiled brat on TV throwing a tantrum because her parents got her the wrong car for her 16th birthday. He decides that instead of killing himself, he's going to rid the world of this idiot. Unfortunately, he's caught in the act by Roxy, her high school classmate who happens to hate her. The two form an unlikely relationship and soon decide to rid the world of all the 'bad' people in the world, Bonnie and Clyde style...

Bobcat Goldthwait is a strange, strange man. After decades of doing stand-up under a larger than life persona, in recent years, he's become a writer/director of films which satirize the state of American society by visiting the extremes of human behaviour. In Sleeping Dogs Lie (2002), a woman finds her relationships with her fiancĂ©e, friends and family damaged when she admits to committing an act of bestiality with her dog in college. In World's Greatest Dad (2009), a man covers up the autoerotic asphyxiation death of his son by making it look like a real suicide and writing a heartfelt suicide note, which turns the dead son from social pariah into posthumous icon and revered writer. And now, in God Bless America, a man facing death decides to kill all the idiots he sees on TV and encounters in real life, along side his teenage accomplice Roxy. All dark, twisted, blackly funny films, and this is no different. Goldthwait has a very distinctive voice, and this has Bobcat written all over it.

Bobcat pulls no punches with God Bless America, he has all manner of annoying targets in his crosshairs, sometimes literally. Screaming babies? Throw them up in the air and blast them with a shotgun like a clay pigeon. Spoiled brats? Lock them in their car and set fire to their petrol tank. Vicious TV talent show judges? Well, I won't spoil the entire film but you get the idea. No-one is off limits here, and some would say rightly so. Given the amount of trash on TV right now, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a film liked this. It just so happens that Bobcat was the first to do it in such an extreme way. Having said that, there are some semi-formulaic elements about God Bless America. Frank is given a sidekick in Roxy, an endlessly enthusiastic teenage runaway who revels in Frank's actions, someone who you assume is meant to represent the 'sane' members of society who refuse the Super Sweet 16's of the world. Their friendship is unlikely, but it's to be expected in an extraordinary film like this. They become like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, even though their actions go unnoticed in the media at first. Roxy gets angered by this, but Frank finds a problem in that, becoming angry that Roxy is never happy. Goldthwait's characters are seemingly endlessly flawed, which is the sign of good writing. The rest of the film does not carry such hallmarks.

The plot is simple enough. but the pace is all over the place, though whether that was intentional or whether it was the fault of the editor is unknown. Either way, the pace is all over the place which has the danger of making the viewer more uncomfortable than the subject matter, which is somewhat surprising. The dialogue isn't great either, and there's nothing original either. It's all self-important monologues and constant conflict resolution. Don't be fooled by the way it's dressed up, the story and the dialogue is something we've all heard before. The direction is fine, if unspectacular, but then it's right that the direction isn't taking the headlines in a film like this. The film itself looks surprisingly good, getting the right mix of mainstream blockbuster and independent docu-drama in its visuals, and that stays constant throughout the film, which is pleasant to see. The acting is the main headline in God Bless America though, and rightly so.

Joel Murray is really, really good playing Frank, the depressed insurance salesman who finds a new reason to live despite his impending death. He plays the depressed, fantasy loving, angry loner well, and then as soon as things are ramped up, he clearly takes real delight in being the action hero and wielding various guns all over the place. He is ably assisted by Tara Lynne Barr, who plays the teenage Roxy with endless enthusiasm and is able to drop in the drama and seriousness at just the right times. Her role is written somewhat badly, given she is dealing with subject matter well above her station, and ideally the role would be filled by a 20-something actress/character, but Barr does very well, stepping up and maturing in a role which could have been difficult to fill. Other than those two, there aren't any particularly spectacular performances, people merely fill their roles aptly when needed, but thee focus needs to stay on the modern day Bonnie and Clyde. any other distractions and the film would have become cluttered and unfocused.

Overall, God Bless America is a film which above all else is symptomatic of an angry man at the helm. Bobcat Goldthwait has a lot to say, and though he isn't the most elegant of writers, he certainly gets his point across. It's not the best of films, not by a long way, but the conversation that could potentially be raised by a film like this is always welcomed. It's not often someone has the guts to do such a far-reaching satire, so to see it done here is a welcome sight, even if it does miss its mark at certain points. Also, some of the story feels forced and inevitable; despite the extreme content matter, you can see where the film's going from a long way off. The main shocks come in the first half of the film, and once those have passed, you feel comfortable and expectant of the shocks that do come. It's a shame that this loses its energy near the end, because if it had managed to maintain its focus and surprise element, this could have been a great film. Fact is, God Bless America is simply good, not that that's a bad thing,

Rating: ***