god bless america (TIFF 2011) Review

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It was very exciting last night going into Midnight Madness, we had a special guest. It turns out that Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait had attended a previous Midnight Madness screening, as a general audience member. Goldthwait saw A Horrible Way to Die, by Adam Wingard, the director of You’re Next, and was so inspired by the film that he felt he had to make god bless america. It is always good news to fans of weird cinema when a midnight segment of a film festival can have this kind of snowball effect. Goldthwait seemed like a kind and charming individual as he introduced god bless america to the audience. Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr, who play Frank and Roxy, were also in the audience. Before we began, Goldthwait told us that he was the only person to have seen the film in it’s entirety, as he just completed it on the previous Tuesday, and we were to be the first audience, official or unofficial. Talk about a premiere!

The film is about an average guy named Frank; average in the sense that he has a job, bills to pay, noisy neighbours, etc. However, Frank is unlike the rest of the population when it comes to his rage and intolerance. He can’t stand inane reality TV shows and can’t understand the greed of some people, who will stop at nothing for their 15 minutes of fame. Add to this his terrible relationship with his daughter and ex-wife, and as you can imagine, Frank is just about at his breaking point. The inevitable happens when he loses his job, due to a misunderstanding, and hears from his doctor that he has an inoperable brain tumour. After a chance encounter with a like minded teenage girl named Roxy, the two set out on a killing spree, trying to put a dent in the mean, greedy and socially vacuous population of America.

I should just come out and say that god bless america struck a nerve with me, unfortunately not in a good way. I was reminded very much of Mark Millar’s graphic novel, Wanted, when I was watching the film. Wanted is essentially a lecture telling the reader that if they like their big screen TV and DVD collection, and if they get pushed around at work by their boss, then they are essentially a waste of space. Innocent people get shot and killed throughout Wanted in the most casual manner, often without a second thought from the main character. Maybe some people enjoy condescending entertainment in a masochistic sort of way, but I don’t see the appeal. Unfortunately, god bless america mirrored the tone found in Wanted.

Numerous sections of dialogue in the film focus on what is wrong with America, according to Frank, and small things that people do that essentially make them fair targets to kill in the eyes of Frank and Roxy. I realize the film is a comedy, but it is hard to identify with central characters that would put a bullet in your head if you’ve ever given a ‘high-five’, said ‘I’m stoked’ or called your breasts ‘the girls’.

On a positive note, the only problem I had with the movie was the story/dialogue. The film was stylishly made and the acting was solid. Goldthwait is a competent director and I would certainly watch his next film. However, the combination of lengthy rants intermingled with killing sprees just didn’t seem to work well. Perhaps if the film fully committed to the dialogue or the violence, instead of both, I would have enjoyed it more. For example, the opening scene is incredibly violent and shocking, however the remainder of the film never hits this hard again. Not even close.

Some readers may think that I am being too hard on god bless america, but perhaps it’s because I had high expectations. I went in expecting a satirical bloodbath, but felt like I was handed a pamphlet on ‘how not to be a D-bag’. This pedantic dialogue bogged down what could have otherwise been a good movie. Frank hit on a few real problems that exist in America; funeral-side protests, religious dogmatism, 24-hour cell phone syndrome and the greed for fame, all of which we should be concerned about. But Frank seemed to be experiencing a serious case of ‘back-in-the-day’ syndrome, in which the past is viewed with rose coloured glasses. It was nearly impossible to identify with such a sad individual. I can tell that Goldthwait, Murray and Barr are talented individuals and I look forward to their future films.

Perhaps god bless america succeeded by sparking this much emotion in me. I’m not sure if this film will find a niche or cult audience, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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