Bobcat Goldthwait has been kicking around the entertainment biz for quite some time – not necessarily as a film director, but as a stand up comedian which lead to some film roles, and one of the leading forces behind the The Man Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and even Chappelle’s Show. His big screen break came with the Robin Williams vehicle World’s Greatest Dad, where he showed he could back up his comedy chops with dark, honest, weighty drama when given the opportunity, but his follow-up, God Bless America, lacks the emotional roots its predecessor possesses. The 2011 TIFF preemed film is concerning the abandonment of American civility, but Goldthwait has shaped it into an explosive soapbox to project his gun-toting liberal fantasies rather than exploring the minds of his deranged leads, or actually finding the kindness he’s so desperately looking for.
In a rare lead performance, Joel Murray stars as Frank, a divorcé suffering from chronic headaches and inescapable stupidity. After just being fired from his job for giving flowers to a co-worker, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and to top it off, his young daughter doesn’t even want to see him because, as she says, “his house is boring.” When he can’t fall asleep to the sound of his neighbors’ screaming infant, he stares down his glowing screen, absorbing copious amounts of repulsive programming that runs the gamut from the exploitation of low IQ singers on an American Idol equivalent to ego-maniacal teen-queen brats who break into hysterics after receiving the wrong kind of luxury vehicle for their sweet sixteen. In Frank’s mind, the people responsible for this offensive behavior deserve a bloody reckoning, and at this point, he has nothing to lose. He takes his long stowed handgun, and deals out death to those he deems deserving. After his first kill, he unsuspectingly finds a partner in a discerning, but unhinged teenage girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who appears just in time to save Frank from himself. Together, they make an awkwardly modern Bonnie and Clyde, shooting their way across country from Syracuse to LA.
Frank’s targets are limited to people who traffic in hate, or at the very least lack a certain expected decency. Fear-mongering talk show hosts, religious extremists, and self absorbed star wannabes beware. What’s great about this dynamic is the fact that no matter your political leanings, Goldthwait makes these characters so excessively hate-able that you can’t wait for blood to spurt from their mangled bodies. The problem though, is that we must endure extended periods of loathsome fake programming that leads into over obvious rants that often flop. This episodic rotation stays in place even after the lead pair form their murderous bond, but it never allows for any real character evolution that could have made this funny film a great one.
For God Bless America, Magnet has put together a disc full of extras with fine picture quality to boot. The image has consistent detail and a stable color scheme that looks generally naturalistic with just a hint that something is slightly off center. The weak spot in the release is sadly the DTS-HD 5.1 master track. It’s often very weak sounding, in every aspect other than dialog. Gunshots feel flat, muscle cars barely sound ballsy, and the wonderful soundtrack never gets the volume it deserves. Even the surrounds seem to have been all but forgotten. The disc itself comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.
Commentary with Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr
Though Tara is mostly in their to fill out the laughs, Goldthwait and Murray get deep in conversation about production details while they continuously crack jokes. It makes for both an enlightening and entertaining listen.
Behind The Scenes: Killing With Kindness
Running nearly a half hour, this piece features interviews from the director, stars, cinematographer, and many others as they speak about their experiences on set and how they got involved with the project. There is also plenty of footage detailing the special effects work, from blood work to car stunts.
God Bless TV: Deleted/Extended Scenes
Throughout the film Frank takes in fake television segments highlighting the worst of society. Collected here are a few that were cut.
Unlike most outake reels, this one is really just a short series of accidents rather than funny moments on set.
Interviews with Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray, and Tara Lynne Barr
The same trio from the commentary answer a wide variety of questions on the film, but can’t hold back from the constant joking that pervades the commentary. It runs nearly a half hour.
HDNet: A Look at God Bless America
Standard EPK fare here. Brief interview clips paired with scenes from the film to promote it pre release.
Roxy & Frank Music Video
Still photographer Mike Carano wrote and recorded an acoustic song based on the film, and paired some of his photos from behind the scenes here to form a collage based music video.
Condensing a film into bare bones narrative looks so seamless here. The same editing skills might have come in use on the full length film.
If you pay for cable television, you probably know how much complete and utter garbage there is filling up the majority of time slots nowadays. As a society, America has developed a taste for the degradation of its fellow citizens under the guise of entertainment. For many of us, this garbage is getting old, and with God Bless America, Goldthwait has allowed us a cathartic outpouring of violence that offers a brief stopgap for our current sensory oppression. It certainly doesn’t dig deep into the odd relationship of Frank and Roxy, or even really examine Frank’s own fractured psyche, but obviously, this was not Goldthwait’s mission. In a way, the film negates its own message of civility by using violence as a means to an already messy end, but in passing, we’ve all wished harm on others for not being nice. Right?