Film 48: God Bless America (2011)

film 48 god bless america

Rating: 4.5/5

“I wish I was a super-genius inventor and could come up with a way to make a telephone into an explosive device that was triggered by the American Superstarz voting number. The battery could explode and leave a mark on the face, so I could know who to avoid talking to before they even talked.”

Movie Lottery is back from its holiday, and I am so pleased to say that the latest movie is this, God Bless America. Written and directed by the wonderfully named Bobcat Goldthwait (the guy with the high-pitched voice in Police Academy), it’s a delightfully dark piece of satire that reveals itself to be not only a plea for kindness from its protagonist Frank (Joel Murray), but a way for Goldthwait himself to vent his frustrations at all the mean people in the world, those people whose seemingly small acts of cruelty and selfishness represent a society no longer concerned with just being decent. As Frank says, “why have a civilisation any more if we are no longer interested in being civilised?!”

The tone of God Bless America is set instantly, with one of the most shockingly hilarious opening scenes I can remember seeing. Poor Frank, plagued with headaches and inconsiderate neighbours, gets through his mundane life by fantasising about ending it all – not his own life, mind you, but the lives of all the people who thoroughly don’t deserve to have one. The television shows and adverts reflect how society’s crumbling, with its crass reality shows, spoiled rich kids, fart jokes and the public humiliation forum of American Superstarz, a thinly veiled dig at the countless talent shows littering our networks today. Goldthwait includes all the shows that have become embarrassingly popular precisely because they are “car crash tv” – shows that endorse the despicable and exploit the vulnerable – as well as featuring a selection of those who may be personal gripes and concerns: everyone from the Westboro Baptist Church, to Fox newsreaders, to perverts, to a man who knowingly parks across two spaces. The message is clear (and frequently reiterated by Frank in one of his numerous dry, disillusioned monologues): if you are mean, rude, selfish, or bigoted, you will feel the satirical wrath of Goldthwait, and be blasted to pieces by Frank.

Frank finally gets to live out his fantasies following a meeting with his doctor, who reveals his migraines are due to an inoperable brain tumour. It’s the final straw for the downtrodden man, who decides to make the world a better place by eliminating Chloe, a rich brat whose super sweet 16th birthday has recently aired on television. This spoiled child, cursing and screaming at her deluded parents, represents all that is wrong in the world, and she must be taken out. It’s a brilliantly slapstick murder, and one that enables Frank to meet Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a student at Chloe’s school who is inspired by Frank’s actions. Together they become moral vigilantes on an epic road trip across America in a stolen canary yellow Camaro, taking out the scum of society, and considering countless other possibilities along the way.

If there is a flaw in Goldthwait’s film, it is that, at times, the tone becomes slightly preachy. He adorns a movie theatre with posters for films he evidently considers to rise above the ignorance of mainstream television – documentaries like Man on Wire and the superb (and terrifying) Jesus Camp – and fills his movie with numerous other cinematic and cultural references that align him and his work with “higher” forms of art. More obviously, he allows Frank to air his frustrations at length to the brain-dead morons he’s surrounded by in work and at home. Yet arguably, all Frank really needs to do, if he is so depressed at the state of contemporary pop culture, is switch off his television. But he does not: he spends his time consuming all the shows he deplores so much. While this is briefly acknowledged early on, when a colleague comments on the fact that Frank claims to “not watch” American Superstarz but did see the previous night’s episode, it does mean that our antihero’s self-righteous mission is somewhat tainted by the knowledge that his pain is self-inflicted. Or perhaps Goldthwait’s screenplay is attempting to demonstrate that involvement is inevitable; that the constantly increasing degradation and decay of morality and taste is unavoidable. He’s not the only person to acknowledge the apparent decline of society; Southpark recently made its own plea for American culture to “raise the bar” in last year’s Honey Boo Boo-inspired episode.

God Bless America is the perfect movie for anyone who enjoys ranting about the injustices of fame and the rise of the reality “star”, for those people who get infuriated by the petty cruelties of the morons they have the miserable pleasure of sharing their lives with, for anyone who has ever wanted to actually act on their rage at the inconsiderate ignoramus talking during a film. Goldthwait demonstrates not only his biting wit and topical satire, but an impressive control over his film; it is glossy and sleek, satisfyingly graphic yet sufficiently comical. Soon, regardless of personal feelings about vigilante killings (surely most people would accept they’re probably not really the way to go), it’s difficult to not only root for Frank, but to gleefully await his latest moral judgement. Oh and, for the record, my hitlist would include: people who park in disabled spaces despite not being disabled (and there being a space just a few metres away); everyone who helped make The Only Way is Essex (and all its spin-off cash-ins) successful; and people who use text-speak in their every day language. LOL? Really? If it’s funny, why can’t you just laugh?

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