"It's a violent movie about kindness."
- Bobcat Goldthwait, on his new movie God Bless America.
Bobcat Goldthwait's new film God Bless America is kind of a mess. It's awkwardly plotted, outgunned by its ultra-low budget and represents something of a technical step backwards for Goldthwait after delivering two top tier pitch-dark comedies in Sleeping Dogs Lie and World's Greatest Dad. Most problematically, it's preachy; a message movie that states its full message right off the bat and spends the rest of its running time restating it in increasingly blunt terms while the main characters monologue their feelings to the audience in prose that often feels like an angry letter to the editor.
"There's all this vitriol aimed at me, because I've said we need to examine ourselves."
And yet I still liked it, and what's more, I still think it's very much worth seeking out. If it ultimately fails at being a cohesive film, it's because it succeeds at being brutally honest. Less a movie than a righteous scream of primal anger directly from the filmmaker to the audience. Recently, I sat down with that filmmaker, stand-up comedy icon and 1980s cult movie fixture turned lauded indie auteur Bobcat Goldthwait, for a roundtable interview from which the quotes in this article are taken.
"I was in London - there were only a handful of channels, and [inaudible Reality TV series] was on. It was my first exposure to it, and I was just so sad that this was the perception of America overseas."
"It was also the period when people were going to Town Halls and just screaming and shouting over and over ... The President getting shouted down on the floor; and I was like 'Where are we going?' This movie's not political, it's just so strange how nasty we've become."
The film's main character ("hero" isn't precisely apt) is a lonely loser named Frank, played by Goldthwait's friend and One Crazy Summer co-star Joel Murray. Frank is miserable; he's divorced, he has no friends at work, and worst of all, both of those things seem to grow out of him being a decent man in an indecent world. He can't engage with the watercooler crowd at work because he can't stomach the cruel reality TV shows (represented in the film by pastiches of American Idol, Real Housewives and My Super Sweet 16), fear-mongering cable news punditry and moronic talk radio that seems to dominate everyone else's life and he's becoming aware that his own daughter (he doesn't have custody) is growing into exactly the kind of horrible brat he sees on TV every night.
"There's no more discourse any more. People just attack and bash the other side."
"The sensational nature of where we are and who we are ... there really isn't any more thought."
Over the course of a day, Frank is fired for inadvertently triggering a sexual harassment charge and informed by his doctor that his migraine headaches are actually a fatal brain tumor. His depression hits critical mass and he aims to take his own life, but then he doesn't.
"I think Frank is a moral man acting very amorally."
"Joel Murray insists that I'm Frank. My wife thinks I'm Frank. I hope I'm not Frank."
His killing hand is stayed by simultaneously watching a teenaged reality star unload on her parents for buying her the wrong luxury car and receiving a too-similar wailing phonecall from his daughter (she's furious to have been given a Blackberry instead of an iPhone). Frank has a moment of clarity: He doesn't need to die ... they, the reality stars, the bigoted political pundits and especially all the rude, callous "ordinary folks" who make their existence possible, need to die!
"I didn't 'satirize' these people, it's all just based on stuff I actually saw. They say I'm 'attacking' these groups, but I was just flipping around [the TV] and there was this guy shouting in front of a picture of The President with a [Hitler] mustache next to Stalin! And I'm like 'whoa, okay' ..."
"People want to blame one side or the other. I don't blame the right, or the left, or Hollywood ... I'm blaming our appetite for this stuff."
And, yeah, that's pretty much the entire movie. Frank steals a car and takes off on a cross-country killing spree, in which a broad set of targets representing people and things that Bobcat Goldthwait doesn't like are marched out to be violently blown away. Tea Party protestors, Fox News-style TV pundits, people who use cell phones at the movies, Westboro Baptist-esque anti-gay groups, people who double park and many, many others meet brutal ends. The quirky nature of the presentation is supposed to clue us in that this is all meant with winking irony, but there's no mistaking the relish with which the bad eggs get gleefully smashed.
"I saw a Tea Party sign - a popular Tea Party sign - and it says 'I came un-armed, this time.' So I'm saying 'I see you're crazy, and I RAISE your crazy.'"