Edinburgh Film Festival: God Bless America Review

The movie ends up coming across as a lecture, and I began to want to defend its targets even though most of them irritate me too. Couldn’t he just turn the TV off and read a book, anyway?

rating: 2

Frank is an angry man, and one imagines Bobcat Goldthwait, the writer-director of God Bless America, is too. It€™s a movie that takes aim at everything he (Frank or Godthwait, you pick) can€™t stand in modern culture, and I mean €˜takes aim€™ literally. Indeed, one of the things that Frank€™s sidekick, Roxy, finds most annoying is people who use the word €˜literally€™ when they don€™t literally mean it. That goes on the list along with reality talent shows, right-wing political commentators, people who high-five and anyone who describes him or herself as €˜spiritual.€™ I can sort of sympathise with that list, although I can also live with it; TV channels can be changed, high-fives are more or less tolerable, and James Joyce began his classic short story €œThe Dead€ with the sentence €˜Lily, the caretaker€™s daughter, was literally run off her feet€™ €“ and who are we to argue with him? Frank and Roxy, however, are shorter on tolerance than most people and go on a Natural Born Killers/Bonnie and Clyde-style kill-a-thon. Frank€™s actions are explained by the fact that he discovers he has a brain tumour, while Roxy is presumably suggestible and looking for a change of pace. He is played by Joel Murray, whose whiney killer comes across as a cross between Harvey Pekar and Travis Bickle, and she is played by Tara Lynne Barr. The two performances more or less work, given their limitations. The supporting cast includes Larry Miller, as the father of a spoiled brat who goes to number one on their hitlist. The €˜spoiled brat€™ is inspired by American reality show €œMy Super Sweet 16€; I know this because I had already seen the odious clip dissected by the brilliant Charlie Brooker on TV€™s €œNewswipe.€ I was reminded of Brooker throughout this movie, and other satirical programmes like €œThe Daily Show.€ I€™m not sure if Frank has seen these programmes, as his TV only receives mindless drivel, but they are prime examples of satire, and occasionally of the way anger can be funny and humour can be cathartic. €œGod Bless America€, sadly, does not achieve anything like catharsis, and though it does have a few laughs it€™s not funny enough to get over its central problem, which is its monotony. Anger has to build to be funny, but in €œGod Bless America€ the rage gets monotonous within the first half-hour, and while at first Frank may come across as some kind of crazed anti-hero created by our mindless society, soon he comes across as irritating and bitter, and since he is the mouthpiece for the filmmaker€™s anger, by extension so does the movie. There are funny moments in €œGod Bless America,€ and its over-the-top violence didn€™t offend me; what movie fan hasn€™t fantasised about killing the person on their mobile phone in the cinema? But by lining up a series of targets in such a literal way it sort of forgets to, you know, have a story; I€™ve pretty much told you all there is to tell. It doesn€™t bother me that there€™s no subtlety; Bill Hicks wasn€™t subtle either. What does bother me is that there€™s no variation, no momentum, and very little originality. The movie ends up coming across as a lecture, and I began to want to defend its targets even though most of them irritate me too. Couldn€™t he just turn the TV off and read a book, anyway? God Bless America is released in the UK on July 4.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.