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July 06, 2012

Movies You Missed 46: God Bless America

God-bless-americaThis week in movies you missed: Comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait brings us a darker-than-dark comedy. A war vet decides we're a nation of mean-spirited vulgarians, so he starts executing annoying Americans. Surely you guessed the title was ironic?

What You Missed

Middle-aged Frank (Joel Murray, who played Fred Rumsen on "Mad Men") is having a bad day. His neighbors are stupid and loud. So is everybody on his TV. Everywhere he goes, people are discussing celebrities or quoting FOX News. When Frank makes a few harmless overtures to a coworker, he's fired for sexual harassment. His ex-wife is getting remarried, and his daughter is a materialistic brat.

But wait, the day isn't over! Frank's doctor informs him he has a terminal brain tumor — and pauses in the middle of his condolences to take a call.

When Frank sees a pampered teen on a reality show berating her parents because they didn't buy her the right car, he snaps. Americans aren't nice anymore. He's going to do something about it — starting with the girl on TV.

Frank quickly gains a sidekick — Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a smart-mouthed, sociopathic teen who hates pretty much everyone, but especially people who high-five and Diablo Cody. Every time Frank stops to consider that maybe slaughter isn't the remedy for stupidity, she's right there egging him on.

Why You Missed It

See synopsis above. See title. God Bless America played 15 theaters and jumped to DVD on, of course, the eve of Independence Day.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Watch the trailer before you decide. You won't soon forget it.

God Bless America is a genuine provocation. Like Idiocracy, Super and Heathers, it deserves to be remembered, and possibly seen, for its misanthropy alone. It made me pissed off — not at our stupid culture, though I do get pissed off about that whenever I watch MTV — but at Goldthwait for refusing to see anything but the stupidity. As true satire, I think, this movie fails.

But as a long and overarticulate scream of anger, it succeeds. God Bless America is like one of Aaron Sorkin's protagonists going on a lecture tear while on PCP.

Frank has plenty to say about what Sorkin has called the "Worst. Generation. Ever." (that's the wired generation, of course). Roxy, despite belonging to that generation, doesn't like her peers any better. But they're also willing to execute qualifying older folks — for instance, those who use cellphones in movie theaters.

The best parts of the movie are the fake TV shows, which are based on real ones and not the least bit exaggerated. If anything could tempt me to premeditated homicide, it might be an episode of "My Super Sweet 16," which Goldthwait has lovingly recreated as the show that sends Frank off the deep end.

The worst parts of the movie are the ones where Goldthwait tries to demonstrate that daily life in America is just as crass and horrible as what's on TV. Real people can be horrible, sure, in all kinds of ways, but it takes reality-show editing to produce that special kind of unrelenting horror and stupidity.

This vision of the world might work as satire in a half-hour episode of "South Park." But in a live-action feature film, it's hard not to notice that all the characters except Frank and Roxy are cartoons. It isn't easy to look a real, unarmed person in the face and pull the trigger, no matter how annoying that person is. It shouldn't be.

Director James Gunn managed to convey that in Super, a deeply disturbing and better-realized film with a very similar premise. (Rainn Wilson decides he's a superhero and starts beating on people — the evil and the merely irksome alike. But living his revenge fantasies brings him to ugly realizations once he comes down to earth.)

Goldthwait isn't endorsing Frank and Roxy's actions. He shows that their crimes, consistently misinterpreted by the media, are just making our problems worse. He makes sure we're aware that Frank (subtly played by Murray) is deeply confused and conflicted, while Roxy is even more screwed up. Yet he doesn't allow us to feel anything at all for their victims, who do not seem conflicted or even human. And that, I think, precludes him and Frank from taking the moral high ground.

Verdict: God Bless America reminds me of how my dad used to listen to Rush Limbaugh at high volume in the car. He hated Rush Limbaugh. He just liked to work himself up.

Now, I agree with my dad (and Goldthwait) that talk radio, reality shows and the Westboro Baptist Church get too much of Americans' attention because they are loud, in-your-face and shameless. Like Kevin Smith's Red State, God Bless America is an attempt to show that liberals can get mad as hell, too. (Interestingly, both movies feature fantasies of going Rambo on the WBC.)

That's all well and good. But a question remains. Who is making Frank watch "My Super Sweet 16" instead of, say, reading Tolstoy or volunteering at a homeless shelter or tending his garden or climbing mountains or being a public advocate of sanity and civility or making model trains?

Nobody. He's choosing to do it. The film goes way off the rails in suggesting he has no alternatives besides killing his loud-mouthed oppressors. And that's my Sorkin-style rant for this week.

Other New Releases You May Have Missed

  • Battle Force (WWII action drama)
  • Jesus Henry Christ (Toni Collette raises a child prodigy in this indie, also with Michael Sheen.)
  • Wind Blast ("Chinese martial-arts western" about a killer fleeing from bounty hunters)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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