‘God Bless America’: Bobcat attacks

May 7, 2012

It’s only May and I already have my favorite film of the year: Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America,” as acidic and funny a movie as you’re likely to see this or any other year. Already available on VOD, it opens in limited theatrical release Friday (5/11/12).

An antidote to the current state of popular culture and media, “God Bless America” takes square aim at everything that is crass, craven and crappy on television, radio and everywhere else. From politics to talk radio to TV talkers to reality TV and beyond, Goldthwait’s film employs a slash-and-burn approach – and creates wildly funny moments in the process.

His hero is Frank (Joel Murray), an average guy who works in an office in Syracuse. He’s divorced and has a daughter who is a blossoming young brat. Frank, a mild-mannered fellow, is appalled by much of what he sees and hears in the media: “Why have a civilization if we’re no longer interested in being civil?” he muses.

Frank seems to be the office shmo, just because he doesn’t yuk it up over the latest outrage on a local morning radio show. When his office mate expresses surprise that Frank isn’t amused, Frank tells him, “I’m not afraid of foreign people or people with vaginas,” two prime targets.

Frank has feelings for a secretary at his office – but when he tries to express his innocent interest in seeing her by sending flowers, he’s fired for creating a hostile work environment. Then he gets a terminal diagnosis from his doctor. Things couldn’t get much worse.

Sitting home drinking, he happens to switch channels to a reality show about a spoiled rich girl named Chloe – and sees his own daughter’s future. Something snaps, and Frank decides that, as his final act, he’s going to rid the world of this teen harridan. So he drives 400 miles in a stolen car – and shoots her in the face.

There’s a witness to the crime: a classmate of Chloe’s named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who hates all the same things about contemporary society that Frank does. She talks Frank out of killing himself after he offs Chloe – and convinces him that they can strike a blow for sanity by going on a killing spree, eliminating everything they think is wrong with the culture.

“With so many people out there who should be taking the big dirt nap, why stop now?” she reasons.

And so they take off on a cross-country trip, alternately offering lists of things they hate and doing something about it: shooting a group of teens who talk and text in a movie (hooray!); a cable commentator who’s a blend of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity; the “God Hates Fags” crowd – ultimately leading to the finale of an “American Idol”-type show.

Goldthwait, working with a limited budget, isn’t trying anything startling visually, though he does offer amusing and imaginative segues and montages. Rather, this is a movie about the message: that we’ve dumbed ourselves down to a state of stupefaction and sheer stupidity, in which cruelty passes for entertainment and celebrity is exalted as a state of grace unto itself, one that glorifies greedy, rude behavior.

He manages to take swipes at everything from NASCAR to energy drinks, from TMZ to the sexualization of children. Frank gets off a telling sermon about the latter when Roxy asks whether he finds her attractive – and he tells her it would be inappropriate to answer.

“So we’re platonic spree killers?” she says, with a certain amount of disappointment.

Goldthwait has cast his film cannily, starting with Murray, so good as Fred Rumsen on “Mad Men” and the outraged Eddie Jackson on “Shameless.” Murray invests Frank with inwardly simmering outrage, capturing the sense of satisfaction that comes with ridding the world of truly horrible people. Barr is a nice discovery: fresh-faced, wide-eyed and eager to commit mayhem.

Let me be clear: “God Bless America” is not for everyone. It is viciously, violently funny, taking no prisoners as it spray-paints Goldthwait’s disdain across a brutal depiction of a pop-culture landscape that deserves this kind of sharp-edged satire.

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