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