4 May 2012


For a moment, I considered constrasting two American comedies in yesterday's post- American Pie: Reunion, and God Bless America. After realising I had too much to say about both, and that one spends most of its time satirising what the other represents, I thought it was better to divide them up. It's hard to imagine anybody who's still laughing at Jason Biggs' inability to have a wank in peace being all that interested in Bobcat Goldthwait's new film.

The subject matter is predictably bleak. Frank is a divorcee, who is basically mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more. Around the same time, he's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, just as his rage at American politics, pop culture and people reaches its peak. Teaming up with a similarly cynical teenage girl, he opts to interfere in the cultural development of pre-warp cultures (actual dialogue), by killing the living fuck out of every mindless arsehole he encounters.

God Bless America certainly owes a debt to a number of films. It has a lot in common with Network, (of this parish) Falling Down and others. It most closely resembles two very different films. Firstly, American Dreamz, a very premature satire of reality TV culture and the war on terror that essentially juxtaposed American Idol with terrorist recruitment programmes, and found little to distinguish. And also, Super, in which a bloke called Frank decides to beat the shit out of criminals and ill-mannered bastards, using a great big spanner, and teaming up with a sociopathic young woman.

Falling Down and American Dreamz are quite problematic, in their scattershot approach to the satire, and God Bless America has some of the same problems. Paddy Chayefsky's script for Network spends an awful lot of time on characters who deliver cutting monologues about media culture, which turned out to be remarkably prescient. There's a film that has really stood the test of the time, because Chayefsky speculated, with uncanny foresight, about what could be. The other films, bar Super, have major issues with what was going on in America at the time that they were made, to the point where they don't know how to articulate the rage.

There are moments in this film where you really can tell that Goldthwait is merely using the characters as mouthpieces for his own views. His indignant rage at the objectification of children, which takes a not totally unjustified shot at Woody Allen, is all well and good, and tonally sound. When there's quite a mean-spirited rant about Diablo Cody, who isn't really destroying America in the way that, say, the Westboro Baptist Church is, the film's all-consuming rage is quite shocking.

In its best moments, it's an American film with a blistering sense of self-loathing, and despair at a culture that is desensitised and ill-mannered. Goldthwait opens with an incredibly shocking scene, in which Frank fantasises about killing his moronic neighbours, as if to bullet point that from the very start. Like Network, it seems to take against television most fervently. In that event, for all of its ranting, I wonder what it's saying, that Network didn't say already; that American Dreamz didn't say already. I have liked, or at least appreciated films like this before, but I still wonder what it has to say that hasn't already been said in Network; in American Dreamz, even.

There's a fair amount to recommend God Bless America, with its dark comedy and stellar performances by Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr making a vicious, scorching blend of violence and satire. With all of its long diatribes, it shouldn't feel so zippy- but then the monologues in Network would have been shorter too, if everyone was holding a gun. If you have appreciated those films I've mentioned in comparison, there's probably something here for you, but I had hoped for something as originally subversive as Goldthwait's previous film, World's Greatest Dad. This one is only cathartic up to a certain point, so varied and spread out are the targets of the satire.

God Bless America is available on VOD in the US, and will have a limited release in cinemas from next Friday. A UK release date is, as yet, unscheduled.
If you've seen God Bless America, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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