God Bless America [DVD]
If you remember when Americans had a true hold on satire, you’re at least as old as I am. What is there now? Mad Magazine is now ridiculously safe and kid-friendly. (Not that it ever wasn’t.) Stewart and Colbert laugh along with their admittedly brilliant punchlines. The Onion is a definite hallmark, but enough disillusioned people consider these stories credible that we may never understand satire as a nation ever again. Luckily, Bobcat Goldthwait has no time for the disillusioned, gifting us the hilariously scathing God Bless America. (Mad Magazine title: Glob Bless Ummerica.)
A well-established comedian, actor, and voice actor, Bobcat Goldthwait has reached a career renaissance as a writer and director of emotion-fueled, blacker-than-black comedies. After Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad, Bobcat aimed his offbeat sensibilities at murdering the ignorant and rude people in the world: the people who take up two parking spots and talk loudly in theaters. In other words, God Bless America is one of the most relatable movies in history.
Our schlubby protagonist, Frank (Joel Murray), spends his home life watching brainless dreck (parodies of current reality television) at high volume to drown out his neighbors’ constant arguments. His workplace is filled with catch-phrasing drones. His doctor only has bad news whenever he actually pays attention to Frank. The film could be mistaken for a loopy Mike Judge comedy until Frank makes his anarchic intentions a reality by executing teen star Chloe, an amalgam of every whiny, annoying, over-privileged socialite clogging up the airwaves. His deeds are witnessed by a like-minded teenager named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), and the two form a strained bond connected by hatred for society at large.
While the rest of the plot’s violent bobbing and weaving across the country is equally enjoyable and unnerving, God Bless America finds its center in Frank and Roxy’s unconventional friendship, which the actors succeed in conveying properly. At times, Frank is the sage father to Roxy’s impulsive daughter, and other times it’s as if they’re on an information-sharing first date, the information being what kind of people they’d like to kill, as well as a shared dislike for screenwriter Diablo Cody. Thankfully, their age difference is commented on realistically and without sensation.
A key line in the film is Frank’s pondering, “Why have a civilization anymore if we no longer are interested in being civilized?” While some viewers (and outwardly vocal non-viewers) will have a problem with the flippant gun use, especially when considering recent events, their true problems should lie in this train of thought existing in the first place. The majority of this nation's population spends money and time on things that don’t require deep thought and can be experienced in the laziest way possible. (Stark generalization.) I probably relate to Frank more than I’d like to admit, though I’m content to keep those thoughts in my head.
Because the film’s themes are so polarizing, even in satirical context, I feel almost biased for liking it so much, as if a DVD review isn’t the place for personal opinions to take over. The film’s third act does tread through predictable waters, but I really can’t think of many more negative things to say about it. As a character, Roxy gets on my nerves, but it’s because Barr’s performance is genuine. When you get right down to it, the world that Frank lives in is so over-the-top that any sentimental undertones feel like they came from a different movie, but Joel Murray, monologues and all, is so grounded in reality that you don’t notice it at the time. And who gives a shit about sentiment when there are so many morons to blast holes in?
If you only see one road movie this year where a baby is exploded with a shotgun to the tune of Brahms’ Lullaby, God Bless America is the perfect choice.
A variety of quality features await you on this DVD. Bobcat, Murray, and Barr give one of the more engrossing commentaries I’ve heard on a comedy in a while. Barr’s youthful intelligence plays well against the two men’s decades-long experience in the industry. Equally informative and silly, there isn't a dull moment on the track.
Also enjoyable is “Behind the Scenes: Killing with Kindness,” a 27-minute look at the God Bless America's production process. Bobcat talks about relating to Frank and the film’s dark themes, and shows us the pig-fart ringtone inspiration for Frank’s insipid TV watching. We also get to meet bearded cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer, whose marijuana use is referred to all over the place by Bobcat. A companion piece to this is the “Interviews” portion, another 27-minute extra that sits Bobcat, Murray, and Barr together and allows each to give their insightful input about the making of the film and their chemistry together. Inspirations and criticisms are discussed, and Bobcat rightfully points out that this isn’t Natural Born Killers or a vigilante flick like Kickass.
“God Bless TV” contains deleted scenes from the reality TV sections of the film. Most notable are more of Larry Miller as Chloe’s dad, and the Jersey Shore-teez, a parody of the Shore with babies. There’s also a music video for “Roxy and Frank (God Bless America),” performed by Mike Carano, which tells the literal story of the film’s characters.
The skippable extras are the short and boring “Outtakes” feature and the HDNet special, which consists of chopped-up portions of the Interview segment, though they do talk about the trailer with a Marilyn Manson song in it, which you can also see in the special features.
I’d buy this film again if I didn’t already own it. We should be so lucky to have Bobcat as the voice of a generation who has seen it all and has a problem with most of it.
Reviewed By: Nick Venable