SXSW 2012: Bobcat Goldthwait's 'God Bless America' is No 'Network'
by Jeremy Kirk
March 11, 2012
Thank God for Bobcat Goldthwait. While many other directors are culling together banal statements — sometimes not even a statement — and hack representations on how they think the world should go, Goldthwait is saying something. What he says isn't always said subtly. More often than not, it's said in the most unflinching, some call it abrasive, ways imaginable. When Goldthwait isn't subtle, his art suffers for it. Case in point, God Bless America, a film ten times more interesting than the cliched image pushing we so often get with today's filmmakers. Even when Goldthwait speaks off key, his voice is a welcomed departure from the norm.
Joel Murray plays Frank, an everyday man who is fed up with the world. He listens to his ignorant neighbors bickering, listens to their snot-filled baby screaming at all hours of the day. Frank wants something to change, and, when he is diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor, he takes the shock to his world as a sign that he has to make that change himself. Enter the shotgun. Enter the pistols. Enter the killing spree Frank goes on to take out the worst the world has to offer. No one is safe. Not "American Idol" contestants. Or judges. Not members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Not even people who say "Namaste" are safe, as Frank so casually throws out. His killing spree gets him spotted by a teenage girl, Roxy, played by the adorable but eccentrically exciting Tara Lynne Barr. The two embark on a cross-nation journey that expels the more culturally devoid inhabitants of the world.
It's not hard to see where Goldthwait was going on this one. He, like Frank, is fed up with reality TV stars. He's fed up with flipping TV channels at 3 in the morning and coming across "16 and Pregnant." Goldthwait is clearly up in arms about what goes for talent in this country these days, and it's not difficult to side with him. There's a poison in the water, and it's slowly eating our world—the cultural world, at least—from the inside out. California teens are bitching that their new Lexus is silver instead of black, while poverty and hunger saps the life from third world countries. We live in a world where more know the name William Hung than Joe Biden.
Goldthwait is sick of the world as it is, and his fantasy includes taking a pump action to the society's cultural face. That's clearly what Frank represents, Goldthwait acting out his every sickened desire to kill the useless off, while the workers of the world keep it moving. It's justifiable enough. If you see something that's killing the world as you know it, you should kill it in return, cast it out entirely and make sure no piece remains. It wants to be Network for a society that remembers when MTV played music. Only God Bless America, with all its harping and speechifying, is no Network, and Bobcat Goldthwait, for all of his rough-around-the-edges originality, is no Paddy Chayefsky.
God Bless America is a series of seeing the most disgusting people born to this world, people who want fame and celebrity without the time and effort that used to come before it. We see them. We recognize them. They're not that shrouded in Goldthwait's fiction, a scary indication that he might not want the rest of his story shrouded in fiction, either. No, I don't think Bobcat Goldthwait would ever take a shotgun to Britney Spears, but you can't help but wonder what might happen if morality and consequences went right out the window.
God Bless America is a scary film. It shows us the worst we have to offer, throws a mirror up in front of our "Toddlers and Tiaras" and makes us question how far we're willing to let it go. But Goldthwait's film, the worst of the worst shown in rapid succession, is so glass-half-empty that it's unwilling to take the real artists of the world into account. Granted, God Bless America is a film about the worst, but it speaks a message that could be dangerous without that optimistic padding, the prolific and profound creatures of our culture who make you think, challenge you with their art, and have something to say. If Goldthwait was willing to throw that mirror up in front of himself, he'd see things aren't that bad. Or, at the very least, they're not bad enough not to tolerate.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 8 Comments
Cant wait to see it.
Patrick Foster on Mar 11, 2012
Same here. After I read the review I had to think a little bit about "Falling Down" but not so Hollywood-like.
filmtogo on Mar 12, 2012
Westboro Baptist Church spreads its hate through picketing in our streets, provoking attacks, with abusive language and flag desecration, attempting to create a confrontation. This is not a church, this is a hate group. This is not about protesting, freedom, or God. They are in it for the money and the press; this is a family law firm. They are not a "church." It is a scam. They go after anything that can get them in the news. This is a family of lawyers using this “god hates you” thing to make money. It is time for this scam and the hate to end. The church has received money from lawsuits and legal fees. For example, they sued the city of Topeka several times in the 1990s(this show has been going on for years). WBC received $16,500, and is pursuing another $100,000, in legal fees for a case won in court. The WBC is considered a nonprofit organization by the federal government, and is therefore exempt from paying taxes! Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church is shown admitting on camera that her oldest son was born out of wedlock. Hypocritical Phelps-Roper's vocal condemnation on strangers having sexual congress outside of marriage while she herself was guilty of the same. They are NOT what they say they are!! THEY ARE NOT A CHURCH!!!
8811081 on Mar 12, 2012
This review doesn't make any sense.
dont on Mar 14, 2012
" . . . things aren't that bad. Or, at the very least, they're not bad enough not to tolerate." Um, excuse me but, yes, they are.
Jules on Mar 18, 2012
"God Bless America is a series of seeing the most disgusting people born to this world, people who want fame and celebrity without the time and effort that used to come before it." Yeah, because the worst people in the world are reality TV stars. The tragedy about a film like this is that actually gives merit to the idea that American culture (or lack of it) actually ranks on any kind of real scale of badness or evil. It's granting import to the ridiculously unimportant.
Keith on Mar 23, 2012
I'll reserve my opinion until I see this movie, though the trailer seems catered to anyone with an appreciation for a culture outside the pro forma "pink slime" fed to the lowest common denominator. With shoot-em-up vengeance films a staple of American culture, and a hotly sought import in other gun-happy countries, there is room for a fantasy about a vigilante going after the people who exemplify the worst impulses of our growing culture of egoism. Go Bobcat Go!
Quink on Mar 27, 2012
Bobcat Goldthwait, who I thought was dead, has written and directed one of the best films you'll probably never see, GOD BLESS AMERICA. I found it on Charter cable's OnDemand movie listings under "Indies & Independents" yesterday afternoon. It's actually the story of my life. Really. I mean it. People who know me would think I was playing the lead character. He goes on a guiltless killing spree after getting fed up with America and it's continuously monotonous bullshit. Speaking of an American Idol-like show he'd flipped past while watching TV the previous night, he tells a co-worker, "It's the same type of freak show attraction that comes along every time an empire starts collapsing." Yeah, that's me. See this movie. Bobcat's writing is brilliant and sarcastic as hell and will put a big fat smile on your face.
Digitalhowie on May 1, 2012
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