Thursday, May 17, 2012

God Bless America

GOD BLESS AMERICA                    B-                   
USA  (100 mi)  2011  d:  Bobcat Goldthwait             Official site

Who is Bobcat Goldthwait you ask, and is that his real name?  Born Robert Francis Goldthwait, he became a professional stand-up comic at the age of 15 while working in high school where he was the homecoming king, but the comic circuit is where he met fellow stand-up artist Robin Williams, star of his earlier film WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009), which appeared first at On Demand a month before it was released in the theaters.  Goldthwait was the comic opener for Nirvana in their final 1993 North American tour, set the guest chair on fire on the Leno Tonight Show in 1994, a sequence shown during the opening of The Garry Shandling Show here:  Bobcat Goldthwait sets the Tonight Show on Fire YouTube (36 seconds), and appeared as himself in the short-lived 1998 comedy TV quiz show Bobcat’s Big Ass Show.  Since then he’s worked in television while also writing and directing films, making his first feature SHAKES THE CLOWN in 1991, called by Goldthwait “the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies,” waiting for the reverberations to subside apparently before his second opened at Sundance, SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006), about a girlfriend who confesses she dabbled in bestiality earlier in life.  Known for his sharp wit, manic humor, and sick and twisted imagination, he’s the kind of guy that offends everybody eventually, but has a good time doing it.  There are few darker comics on the planet and probably all his films should come with a disclaimer, “Do not try this at home, this behavior was performed by a professional entertainer.”  Already some have been less than enthused, such as Roger Ebert, the voice of reason and film writing conscious of America God Bless America - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times:

What he has created, in the name of comic social commentary, is an amoral movie about two psychopaths killing people they believe deserve to die. As a general rule, that's an evil reason for taking someone's life. If we agree with Frank and Roxy, we also agree with people who shoot at abortion clinics, kids who open fire at their schools, and drivers in road-rage killings. I see what Goldthwait is trying to do and agree with many of his complaints about our society, but finally it becomes impossible to laugh.

Please bear in mind, Bobcat Goldthwait does not advocate serial killing, but does use this Mad Magazine style metaphor in the movie, as it’s the kind of thing people imagine all the time, wondering what would happen if they could just get rid of someone who is a total and complete irritation to others.  Wouldn’t the world be better if we could somehow make them disappear?  These are not actual thoughts contemplating murder, but just wondering what it would be like in a more perfect world.  It’s not much different than wondering what might have happened if the South won the Civil War, if Hitler or Stalin had died young, or if Mozart had lived well into old age instead of dying at the tender age of 35.  How might the world have been different?  Many fantasize these kinds of thoughts in their head at some point and time in their lives, just as they might wish a certain President might disappear, imagining someone different running the country.  There is no judgment to be made here, as these are simply fantasies made by everyday ordinary people.  Goldthwait starts with this premise and then embellishes upon it, extending it into a disturbingly bizarre satire.  This is somewhat reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode where a child had the power to make people disappear when he got angry at them, It's a Good Life (The Twilight Zone) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, or the more darkly disturbing Travis Bickle character in Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976), who narrates his inner thoughts about the disgusting filth in New York City, filled with “creeps and low-lifes and degenerates,” where “All the animals come out at night—whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal.  Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

While Scorsese goes for the throat using a dramatic thriller format, Goldthwait goes for over the top mockery of the laissez faire attitude towards a developing social malaise, where pop culture dominates the discussion on television and gossip columns, which spend so much of their time on celebrity worship through reality TV shows or the latest Hollywood news, including any rumors on the latest scandals or gossip, where Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson, or Lindsay Lohen had alternate careers just handling the disastrous press coverage that nearly destroyed their careers, where they, along with Paris Hilton or the Kardashian sisters, are all anyone can talk about.  When the nation gets enthralled in the mindless tedium of overblown lives who are pandering to the public with little more than a self aggrandizing “get rich quick” scheme, it contributes to a vacuous wasteland of lazy and unused minds.  The same goes for the hysteria developed from fever-pitched political posturing, high pressure advertisements, or the film’s favorite target, the dumbing down of America from its obsession with American Idol.  Do we really need to poke fun at those among us who simply have no talent, but who get laughed at week after week?  And why are the networks pushing this kind of mindless and belittling behavior as entertainment?  The point seems to be the nation is growing an instant gratification complex, where if they don’t get their fix of gossip and Reality TV, or brand merchandise, or have their political way, then they’re doomed to leading empty and meaningless lives. 

Like a sick homage to Howard Beale in Network (1976), whose crazed rant:  “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!” becomes the mantra for Frank (Joel Murray), a down in the dumps everyman who grows disgusted with the changing times, including loud and inconsiderate neighbors who don’t have the capacity to care about anyone but themselves, or his separated wife who is raising the most spoiled and tantrum ridden daughter on the planet, or his job that fires him for sending flowers to a coworker, a front desk receptionist who was having a bad day, an act that was considered sexual harassment.  Beginning with the neighbors, Frank decides to make a statement, where the wish fulfillments of his own daydreams become a harsh and brutal reality.  The film spends no time whatsoever on the victims, but is seen purely from the irritated perspective of Frank, who suffers from migraine headaches and is told by a physician that he has a giant sized tumor in his brain that is inoperable.  Frank decides to get even with the world, tracking down those he considers the worst offenders, the most despicable people on the planet with no redeeming value whatsoever and target them for assassination.  When he blows away a ridiculously shallow teen idol who thinks the world revolves only around her, whining and complaining about the ineptitude of others for failing to give her the constant adoration she needs, this grabs the attention of another lurking teenager, Tara Lynne Barr as Roxy.  Impressed by his no nonsense approach, she decides to tag along, which turns this into a road movie, as they scour the underside of America in his neighbor’s stolen bright yellow sports car, about as opposite as conspicuous as you can get.    

But this is no LOLITA (1962), and Frank is no hellraiser, so despite Roxy’s attempt to turn them into a pair of BONNIE AND CLYDE outlaws, with posters touting “They're young... they're in love... and they kill people,” Frank is devoutly conservative and refuses to get in her pants, perhaps spoiling 16-year old Roxy’s idea of fun on the run, as they’re more of a father and daughter act.  In fact, Murray never overplays his hand or resorts to exaggerated caricature, almost always underplaying every scene, bringing with it a sense of purpose, while Roxy is the one who gets extremely carried away, turning into a gun shooting psycho bitch with an axe to grind.  The initial idea grows stale after awhile, becoming more absurd, using petty adolescent disturbances as reason enough to blow people away, where the storyline is relentless in continuing to discover fertile territory for public annihilation. Of course, one of the problems here is that Frank and Roxy follow the same kind of illogical treatise as others, where they simply follow it to a radically different extreme.  There’s never any sense that wiping away these rude and obnoxious people will have any effect whatsoever on changing the culture, but instead, just like the problem they’re attempting to eradicate, it only brings them, and the audience, the same instant gratification, where really, they’re no better examples of the shallowness of the culture.  Eventually they become a kind of THELMA AND LOUISE (1991), two friends on a mission that runs its course, where it all made sense in the beginning of the journey, but by the end, they are backed into a corner with no place to go, and they have no one to blame for this but themselves.  The film is somewhat uneven, starting strong and having its moments, one of which is a brilliant description from Roxy on the groundbreaking merits of Alice Cooper, where there would be no androgynous David Bowie or even punk music without him.  But occasional hilarity isn’t a great movie and is more hit or miss.  While this is a different form of slightly demented entertainment, pushing the edge of SOUTH PARK (1997 – present) satire, Goldthwait’s not afraid to steal an infamous Tarantino scene word for word from JACKIE BROWN (1997) Jackie Brown - AK-47 the very best there is! - YouTube (38 seconds), while making stellar use of music by Ray Davies of the Kinks singing “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” God Bless America - I'm not like everybody else - YouTube (2:24), which has an eerily familiar quality of menace from an anonymous man in a crowd from TAXI DRIVER.  

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