Comedian turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait has built his cinematic career on toying with an audience’s expectations. With the possible exception of his directorial debut ‘Shakes the Clown’ (where he was still finding his voice), he’s taken to throwing his viewers for a loop. ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ was more a look at contemporary relationships and the flip-side of complete honesty than a tale of the hilarity that ensues after a woman reveals her previously carnal relationship with a dog, and ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ was more a character study of a failed author than a dark comedy about a father and his incredibly terrible son. With his newest film ‘God Bless America’, Goldthwait has gone in a different direction yet again. Honestly, any movie where a baby is shot by a shotgun before the title sequence is going to be rather different, but even for Goldthwait this is something new. He’s managed to keep the surprisingly high emotional quotient in play here, but he’s upped the shock factor quite a bit. No film, perhaps with the exception of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, is as out there as the social satire ‘God Bless America’. It’s far from a perfect flick, but it’s clever enough to make you overlook its flaws and enjoy the zany ride for what it is. The movie doesn’t open until the end of May, but I’m here a month early to let you know that it’s worth checking out when it hits theaters.
Frank (Joel Murray) is your average middle aged man, working a dead end job and watching television at night. He’s an angry man, but not your typical angry man. No, he’s just one that’s finally had it with the ills of society and is ready to do something about it. Like plenty of other people, he hates mean people, reality television, and feels that the world is headed in the wrong direction. The thing here is, he’s decided (coupled with getting laid off and a cancer diagnosis that has him contemplating suicide) to begin killing those who he feels are the scum of the Earth. It starts with a spoiled rich girl, and while he’s committing that murder he’s spotted by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), an outcast who loves what Frank is doing and wants to join up with him. With a little bit of convincing, she and Frank are soon a team, offing rowdy movie theater patrons, Glenn Beck-types, and unfit parents. As their sites get bigger, they start noticing that the media isn’t exactly understanding why they’re doing this. It ultimately leads Frank to plan something bigger for his finale…much bigger.
Joel Murray is surprisingly good in the lead, lending some pathos to a role that could otherwise be positively repugnant (in fact, it can be argued that by all rights this should be a despicable character). You feel his pain, and while you obviously wouldn’t condone what he’s doing, you never once think he’s a bad guy. Murray achieves that with a combination of emotion and humor, making for a very memorable character. Tara Lynne Barr is pretty much a combination of Chloe Moretz’s character from ‘Kick-Ass’ and Ellen Page’s from ‘Super’, but she makes the role her own. It’s not quite a performance on the level of those two, but she comes close. She’s written as a plot contrivance at times, but Barr helps you to get over that with her ample charisma. Their chemistry together is a nice highlight of the movie. Also on hand are Mackenzie Brooke Smith as Frank’s awful daughter and Melinda Page Hamilton (who previously worked with Goldthwait on ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’) as his ex wife, but Murray and Barr are the ones to take notice of.
So far, Bobcat Goldthwait has kept things structurally simple as a filmmaker, but he opens it up a bit here. The results are a bit on the mixed side, but you can’t help but admire his moxy. His direction is sure-handed, and he’s able to set things in a rather surreal world and lets things play out on that level, but they’re never so over the top that you’re pulled out of the picture. His writing is sharp-edged, with a script that’s often funnier than you’d expect, but at times it sounds like he’s just repeated conservative and liberal talking points. It’s often to mock them, but it still sounds a bit canned. Overall, he continues to grow as a filmmaker, and one can only wonder where he’s going to go next.
‘God Bless America’ doesn’t quite stick its landing, but for the most part it’s an effective comedic satire. Goldthwait doesn’t always hit his targets, but he’s throwing enough at you that some is bound to stick. It’s possible that if your politics lean rather hard to the right that this may not be a film that you’ll find amusing, but aside from that it’s well done and worth seeing when it comes out on May 31st. Until then, take this Early Review as my recommendation and consider things from there. If you’re looking for a weird little film, this could be right up your oddball alley.
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