Thursday, 17 May 2012

Bobcat Goldthwait - God Bless America

The fifth feature film from Bobcat Goldthwait follows Frank. (Joel Murray) A frustrated middle-aged man, who on losing his job and being diagnosed with terminal cancer, is pushed to go on a killing spree. The condition being that he'll only kill people that he believes deserve to die. He’s aided by 16 year old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who shares his dissatisfaction with the world.

It’s a controversial subject, the kind that Bobcat has become known for throughout his career. The film’s fairly limited release seems to have precluded it from any major press attention though, so maybe it’ll escape being blamed for any future high profile massacres.

Frank at often times seems to be a mouthpiece for Bobcat’s own frustrations with the world. There’s a long scene at the beginning where he talks of these things to a co-worker and it often sounds more like a ranty article than a dialogue between two people.

The thing’s that get Frank so angry include American Idol or X Factor type shows, MTV’s Sweet Sixteen, the abundance of social networking and iPhones, right wing Fox News editorial anchors.  Targets that the kind of person who’d see this film will probably sympathize with Frank in. (Well maybe not the iPhones) and of course these people become the targets of Frank and Roxy’s killings. It’s a fun idea although if it’s really intended as a satire and criticism of society, its targets are a bit shallow. The hosts and viewers of American Idol are blamed, but not really the producers. Essentially Frank’s targets come down to just people who are rude and inconsiderate. Which is still a good enough premise for a film, who doesn’t want to see teenagers that talk on their phones during a movie getting shot? But it is a step short if it's hoping to make a truly pointed critique of modern society.

What helps carry the film though is the dynamic between Frank and Roxy.  The issue of a middle aged man being friends with a 16 year old girl is handled very well. Frank flat out refuses to take any sexual interest in her, despite her questioning of how he sees her, he refuses to even comment. There’s a 'fuck you' given out to men who’ve married very young women in which Woody Allen is singled out, which seemed surprising to hear.

After a while the film starts to repeat itself. Bobcat has responded to this criticism of his work, claiming that he wants to fully explore the idea. This is valid up to a point, but after a while the film does seem to lose its momentum. Thankfully the story manages to find a direction to take it into the 3rd act, eventually building towards a suitable climax.

Ultimately the strength of the film is in having something that’s angry, dark and funny that also has a genuine heart to it. It’s not a film about morality. Bobcat said rather astutely on a recent Comedy Bang Bang episode that murder is justified in serious action films, because according to some people’s morality those people deserved to die. But he doesn’t ever believe murder is right. It goes without saying that the murders performed by the two protagonists aren’t seen as moral by the film. Their actions aren't justified, but it’s not a film about the morality of these actions.

It is worth seeing though, and it’s also worth looking up Bobcat’s previous film, ‘World’s Greatest Dad.’ I can’t speak for the rest of his work, but I’ll certainly be interested in seeing the rest of his output on the strength of these two films.

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