I’d be lying if I said I never imagined doing some cruel, heartless things to useless celebrities who don’t deserve their fame. Like most satirical writers, I write about it instead, taking verbal and visual potshots at whoever has annoyed me.
Someone with a much larger platform seemed to have the same idea: comedian turned writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait. Many remember Goldthwait’s stage persona as a mentally incapacitated screecher who starred in such movies as One Crazy Summer, the Police Academy series, and Scrooged. What many do not remember is the volatile dark comedy he wrote and directed, Shakes the Clown, about an alcoholic birthday clown, which became a cult hit.
A little over ten years later, Bobcat started shaking society’s tree with such films as Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad. Now, he has uprooted that tree with his latest film, God Bless America, a “violent film about kindness.”
I attended a screening of the film and later had the chance to sit down with Goldthwait and star Joel Murray.
Fame used to mean something. I know this because, when I was a kid, I used to study famous people. I constantly read about them, wrote about them, even took tests on them where, if I didn’t pass, I’d run hide for fear of my parents’ disappointment. Being famous used to mean bringing something valuable to this world, to make it a better place for humanity to live. Of course, being notorious was the other side of the coin, but we’ll leave that for another time, or movie.
Just think of all the famous people from history: Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, Mahatma Gandhi, Marie Curie, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Mother Theresa, Hugh Hefner. These are people who helped change the world because the world needed changing, not because they wanted to get on YouTube. Now, think of the famous people of today: Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, The Real Housewives of Anywhere. This is a new breed of fame, people that are famous for obnoxiously sticking their faces into every part of our lives; people famous for being famous.
The film stars Joel Murray (of Mad Men fame, but more known to this ’80s child as George Calamari from, once again, One Crazy Summer) as Frank Murdock, a normal guy with a normal car, a normal job, a normal divorce, and a normal dislike for his obnoxious neighbors. He despises pop culture and how it takes over his television, water-cooler conversations, and even his own daughter’s personality, claiming “nobody talks about anything anymore.”
When Frank’s doctor tells him that he has developed a lethal brain tumor, things change. While contemplating suicide, Frank catches a peek at a Super Sweet 16-like show called Chloe, and decides that, before he takes himself out, he’s going to leave the world a better place by taking Chloe with him. What starts as a ridiculously awful and funny assassination attempt turns into a cross-country cleansing of American culture. With the help of angsty teenager Roxy (played by Tara Lynn Barr), Frank takes aim at political and religious zealots, obnoxious talk show hosts, rude people in movie theaters, and anyone else who is “just plain mean” in an awkwardly violent comedy that will not only make us laugh at ourselves, but hopefully make us a little bit nicer.
The best thing about this movie is the awkward dark comedy style of humor that everyone seems to love these days. Joel Murray does an excellent job of playing the part of a regular guy that has just had enough of the idiots of the world. He doesn’t grow bulging muscles over-night, get his hands on a tank and turn into Rambo. He just has a gun and an aspiring level of kindness that people need to achieve, or risk his wrath. Tara Lynn Barr does an amazing job as well, incorporating the excitable energy of a normal teenager into the bloodthirsty spirit of Charlie Manson.
While the message about what needs to be fixed in society remains clear throughout the film, Bobcat stays self-aware enough in the script to add complex elements to the characters; the internal struggle to keep themselves from becoming social screen icons themselves while doing their civic duty; the mental battle between doing what you believe is right versus the temptation to become a spokesperson for that message; the challenges of saving someone’s humanity when they don’t believe that they are being exploited. These complexities ground the movie, so that it not only becomes a little less formulaic, but just more human in general.
The only issue the movie really has is in the “monologues”. While the information is funny, enlightening, and is a nice break from the stream of violence, they tend to be a little drawn out, making Frank, and the movie itself, seem a bit more preachy than it needs to be. While we did not get a chance to discuss this issue with Bobcat Goldthwait directly, we were able to discuss other, more humorous things about the film and America in general with him and Joel Murray in an interview with the duo.
Whether you hate pop culture or are pop culture, the movie is entertaining. It’s dark, funny, and self-aware. It’s the movie that America needs to make us a little more self-aware.
I give God Bless America 4 out of 5 blood-soaked screaming mothers. Oh, you’ll know it when you see it. I promise
Patrick Emmel is a humor writer on pop culture and celebrities that would probably make the top 5 list of any real-life Frank Murdock. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.
Find out what Patrick thought of another dark comedy with his manly movie review of the Goon, which just came out on disc. –>