God Bless America (review)

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God Bless America red light Joel Murray Tara Lynne Barr

I’m “biast” (pro): love Bobcat Goldthwaith; totally onboard with his despair at the state of American culture

I’m “biast” (con): none

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)


So I just spent part of my second Independence Day in London watching Bobcat Goldthwait’s sarcastically dubbed God Bless America on a screener. I figured this was appropriate: I’m an American disillusioned with America and now with some longterm firsthand experience of how other countries do the whole life thing better… and yet I still cannot get behind this tedious soapbox of a movie. Oh, I sympathize with its attitudes: reality TV is a horror (this is true in the U.K., too); the U.S. is being misled by professional right-wing blowhards; crudity and violence rule American infotainment; general rudeness, selfishness, and even outright sociopathy has become a way of life. Our “hero” Frank (Joel Murray: Mad Men) laments that “no one has any shame anymore, and we’re supposed to celebrate it,” which I would be happy to wear on a T-shirt every day. But Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad) — as writer and director — doesn’t know what to do with this except rage incoherently and ineffectively at the state of the world. See, Frank — with his sidekick, teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) — hauls ass on a demented road trip around America shooting reality-TV queens and preachers who yell “God hates fags” and assholes who park across two spaces at the mall, his rampage set off by a (possibly) unfair firing from his cubicle-farm job and a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. But… then what? What purpose does his rampage serve? How does this make the world any better? I am so on Goldthwait’s side, but he doesn’t have any answers. I’d love to hear it if he did. What does the world look like beyond the hellish end-of-empire American apocalypse? Goldthwait has no idea. And so God Bless America ends up having nothing to say except “Wah!!”

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bronxbee
bronxbee
Wed, Jul 04, 2012 11:01pm

it sounded like a good 1/2 hour spot on comedy channel but i didn’t think it looked like enough for a full length movie, and without a true resolution what is the point? 

Patlandness
Patlandness
Wed, Jul 04, 2012 11:59pm

I have to totally agree with your review here.  I watched this a couple of months ago on OnDemand (they have a “before it hits theaters” feature).  Bobcat’s rants in between the killings are spot-on–but wouldn’t it have served to just turn it into a savage stand-up routine?  

I’d also like to recommend the stand-up CD by Bobcat “I Don’t Mean to Insult You, but You Look Like Bobcat Goldthwait”.  It’s much better than this flick.

ceti
ceti
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 2:23am

Sometimes a good wah, is all you need. What answers? Human civilization or even the species itself might be fatally flawed.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  ceti
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 11:51am

But it’s not even a good wah. :->

Tangeu
Tangeu
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 3:42am

I figured that was exactly the point, that his rampage changes nothing, his speeches change nothing, his pleas change nothing.  Society is terrible in every way he complains and there is nothing you or anybody can do about it.  The mere act of questioning it will brand you an outcast.  You don’t like the way things are, well too bad.  At least that is what I took away from it, and to me is a valid message.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tangeu
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 11:50am

That’s a valid interpretation. But I think it probably could have been a lot bleaker to drive that point home.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 4:39am

What does the world look like beyond the hellish end-of-empire American apocalypse? Goldthwait has no idea. And so God Bless America ends up having nothing to say except “Wah!!”

Which has long been my problem with George Carlin.

Things change, attitudes change, society changes. But it takes work, and it takes patience, and it takes time. And people who think that everything’s hopeless and that there’s nothing you can do are never the ones who make things better.

Patlandness
Patlandness
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 5:48am

I think you’re mistaking George Carlin with Bill Hicks.  Bill Hicks wanted the human race to evolve.  Carlin was more blase about humanity and its place in the Universe.  He said something to the effect of the human race being a freak show, and being an American was like having a front row seat.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 11:49am

I think Carlin made a lot of people think about why things are the way they are: he pointed out the puppets pulling the strings in ways that gave his audiences food for thought. This film doesn’t even do that. This movie could have asked, “Who is benefitting from bread-and-circuses reality TV?” for instance. But it doesn’t do that.

And there’s this: A rant can work really well as a five-minute standup routine. But it’s harder to make that work as a 105-minute narrative movie. 

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 12:43pm

I give Carlin credit for pointing out problems with society, but I don’t appreciate how he encouraged his audience to nothing more than cynicism and despair. His message, at least from all his stuff that I’ve seen, was “The game is rigged, you’re screwed in the ass, the Man has won, and it’s all over.” That’s defeatist, and it doesn’t help.

I take the point about standup acts vs movies.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 2:23pm

I liked his suggestion that we should set up housing for homeless people on golf courses, since they have yards and yards of unused green space. Sadly, no one has taken him up on it.

And while ranting about a problem isn’t a solution, when no one else is ranting, sometimes calling attention to the problem is a good first step to getting something done. Comedians don’t always have the practical qualifications to carry out social reforms, but if the comedians are funny enough, the people who do have the experience will start to listen.

bronxbee
bronxbee
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 4:10pm

exa

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 7:06pm

sometimes calling attention to the problem is a good
first step to getting something done.

Of course. I
heartily agree. But if you want to fire people up to get things done, I
think it’s counter-productive if the problem-pointer-outer is also saying things like: “It will never, ever, ever be fixed,” “It’s never
going to get any better,” “You have no choice… they’ve got you by the
balls,” “You know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you
sooner or later ’cause they own this fucking place,” “The public sucks,
fuck hope,” “I don’t vote… it’s meaningless,” and “I… who did not
vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no
way responsible for what these people have done” (all actual Carlin
quotes).

YMMV, of course, but I am not inspired to take action by cynicism and
bitterness — and by a call to not vote, for crying
out loud. How many people who stay home during elections justify their
decision by bringing up Carlin’s rant, I wonder? If he has convinced lots of people that voting is pointless — that there’s no use
participating in the system — that’s something I’ll hold against
him.

if the comedians are funny enough, the people who
do have the experience will start to listen.

I hope
so! But see, Carlin would have been the first to sneer at you and tell
you “You’re out of your fucking mind.” He would have shat all over your
optimism. I wouldn’t, though. :-)

Because while awareness and anger are necessary ingredients for change, Carlin failed to recognize a third one: hope.

Danielm80
Danielm80
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 2:37pm

So I just spent part of my second Independence Day in London watching Bobcat Goldthwait’s sarcastically dubbed God Bless America on a screener.

The first time I read “sarcastically dubbed,” I thought–and I’m not kidding about this–that the movie had sarcastic subtitles on the screen:

MALE LEAD: I love you.

SUBTITLE: Her mini-skirt is only four inches long.

FEMALE LEAD: I’ll never leave you.

SUBTITLE: Half of all marriages end in divorce.

Lenina Crowne
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 3:11pm

The DVD (or at least my DVD) of Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a subtitle option where all the subtitles are lines from Henry IV Part 1. Like this:

PYTHON: Look over there!
SUBTITLES: What, ho!

That’s a boring example, but you get the idea. It was fairly entertaining.

One of the things that bothers me is all the people saying it’s a good idea for a movie, or an interesting conceit. But…. all that seems to be happening is the characters rant about people they don’t like, and then kill them. It strikes me as quite a facile premise. It’s barely a premise at all. (Keep in mind, I haven’t seen this  movie and am biast against it).

cal
cal
reply to  Lenina Crowne
Fri, Jul 06, 2012 5:55pm

I remember that! It was very entertaining, especially since they synced up so well!

Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 9:05pm

They do that in a scene in Annie Hall, actually, which is a terrific movie (wherever you fall on the Woody Allen love-hate scale).

RogerBW
RogerBW
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 2:42pm

Haven’t noticed the “biast” tags before – excellent idea!

Shame about the film. Perhaps the same problem that causes an enjoyable five-minute SNL sketch to become a two-hour dog of a film..

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Jul 05, 2012 11:48pm

The biast tags are new. I’ll include them with reviews from now on.

DR
DR
Sun, Sep 23, 2012 4:26am

This movie started off as great social commentary, but then it ended as every left-winger’s wet dream.  It wasn’t even-handed in it’s political commentary with the exception that everyone hates Fred Phelps, including right-wingers. Why not off an Olbermann or a Matthews? Aren’t they just as bad? What’s with the sidekick complaining about tolerance as she insults Christians before offing someone? Roxy was a very unsympathetic character.