Frank’s a mild mannered guy, intelligent, maybe a little lonely, stuck in a dead end job, and he’s slowly being pushed over the edge; not by one thing but an array of mind boggling idiocies that are rapidly becoming the norm in the great land of America. His neighbours seem unaware that their ignorance and volume affects the people around them, his co-workers chatter mindlessly about the buzz topics of the day, usually revolving around the latest TV sensation… and the TV, oh the TV; ‘reality’ shows, ‘talent’ shows, the celebrities they spawn? When Frank is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decides something needs to be done.
Non US residents, remember Bobcat Goldthwait? No? Well then, do you remember the guy with the weird voice, called Zed from the Police Academy movies two through four? That’s him, he’s quite a famous comedian in The States and since those days of hilarity Bobcat has held part-time work as a voice actor and full-time work as a TV director. More recently though, Bobcat has been making a bit of a splash as a writer/director in the world independent filmmaking, his films walking a fine line between funny, sweet and controversial.
His feature debut, Sleeping Dogs, was about a woman coping with knowledge spreading of her possible past experimentations with bestiality, his next film, World’s Greatest Dad, saw a father capitalising on his son’s autoerotic asphyxiation caused death to popularise his own writing, and his latest, God Bless America, is nothing less than a full on soap box rant about the increasing stupidity of mainstream America and the downward spiral of ‘entertainment’ shows that are dominating the telebox and the extreme politics that we find everywhere else.
This reviewer, as well as many people reading this review, I suspect, will often have despaired at a great many facets of modern society; ‘reality stars’ like Kim Kardshian and Katie Price here in the UK becoming role models for a generation of girls, talent shows encouraging a nation of viewers to poke fun at people who seem to have mental or emotional issues, and extremists that are given column space and radio time to spout nonsense far right and leftwing politics.
Bobcat Goldthwait obviously feels so strongly about this kind of thing that, like his main character, Frank, he couldn’t just sit by silently anymore and has had to actively do something to oppose the movement of stupidity, rudeness and mediocrity.
And so the odds are pretty high that you will either love or hate God Bless America, depending on what lifestyle you lead and entertainment you enjoy. If you enjoy My Super Sweet 16 or laugh at the dude who’s embarrassing himself on America’s Got Talent, the film is a direct attack on you, your mentality and your favourite shows. Others will be praising the heavens that someone has so perfectly articulated things that they have felt more increasingly as time has gone on.
This is all making the film sound very serious, but in truth it is a comedy, and a very funny, violent and well-crafted one at that. The writing is actually well judged, somehow seeming fair and well balanced considering how deceptively one sided it is. A good example of this is during the set up of the scenario, as Frank spends his sleepless nights clicking through the channels, we are witness to a patchwork of pastiches of recognisable shows, but rather than present a hyper-realised version of those shows to prove his various points, Goldthwait actually manages to replicate the shows to near perfection, ditto the office environment, and the personal annoyance and fantasies of violence directed at horrible neighbours.
It’s obviously been put together on a pretty low budget, and no big name actor in there right mind would go anywhere near the film considering the kind of people it’s bound to piss off, but this all works to it’s favour, with the semi-recognisable character actors totally inhabiting the roles, and the structure and story of the film unfolding at an odd pace and in unguessable directions, something that is much more acceptable in the stable of independent cinema, as too are the duplicitous character dynamics; Frank, for instance, despite his penchant for ultra-violence is a lovely and respectful guy.
God Bless America’s more intelligent detractors may accuse Bobcat Goldthwait of being a judgemental and self-indulgent filmmaker of the highest order, and while that can’t entirely be agued with the film remains genuinely entertaining and has a sense of justice at its slightly twisted heart. And it’s not like it’s the first film to take a crack at the subject, in fact it’s almost a mash up of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy and Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, only funnier than the former, more shockingly violent than the latter and just plain better than both.
I thought it was brilliant, its controversial leanings could mean that you may not, but in all honesty something this far off the mainstream will probably be preaching to the converted anyway… Either way, check it out and decide for yourself.
A grade – for storytelling
B grade – for acting
B grade – for direction
A- grade – for originality
Overall grade – A-
God Bless America is already available for home entertainment in the US and will be available in the UK and Canada from July .