Bobcat Goldthwait is someone you might be familiar with as an actor, the screechy and weird-voiced guy from films like Police Academy and Scrooged, but you might not yet be familiar with his work as a director, and if you’re not, then you really should be.
His directorial debut, in 1991, was Shakes the Clown, a dark comedy that followed a community of clowns and their lives, with an overtone of bitterness and regret, and with a seedy bar as one of the film’s foremost locations, it’s a film that I thoroughly enjoyed then, and still do today. His follow-up, Sleeping Dogs Lie in 2006 was even darker and ever weirder than his debut, a black comedy about a woman who, in a moment of impulsivity, slept with her dog, and finds that her life is effected by that moment forever, is equally disgusting and hilarious, featuring moments that cross lines in ways that tickle the funny bone and trigger the gag reflex. Goldthwait’s 2009 black comedy, fronted by the late, great Robin Williams, Worlds Greatest Dad was, again, pitch black but filled with hilarious dialogue and written brilliantly. Independent comedy at its finest with a tremendous and underrated performance from Williams.
In 2011 Bobcat presented his fourth film as director, and again his trademark darkness was there in abundance. This is my favourite of his films yet, and the storyline, controversial and exceptionally brash, made me laugh loudly and gasp heartily.
Written and directed by Goldthwait, God Bless America is a satire of sorts, and a look at pop culture and modern society through the eyes of someone who has issues with how the world works nowadays. Taking shots at a variety of topics, Bobcat delivers a brutal offensive blow at reality television, the ADD attitude of modern culture, the obsession with celebrity and the ever-growing lack of respect that is breeding through the streets and homes of our current landscape.
We follow Frank (Joel Murray) a lonely guy who may be dying and has just been fired from his office job. Watching America fall and become a shadow of what it once was, to him, Frank takes it upon himself, with little left to lose, to grab his gun, get in his car and kill the most disgusting and reprehensibly stupid members of society. On his journey Frank finds an unusual abettor, a sixteen year old girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a girl who agrees with Franks opinions on the disintegration of America, and mirrors his irate reaction to it.
Murray and Barr, as Frank and Roxy, are a team that work brilliantly together. Frank taking on the fatherly role as Roxy is attempting to find somewhere to fit in and someone to care about her. It’s a tender story within a dark and demented one. Watching these too characters go from being likeable and regular in one moment to violent and extreme in the next is what brings a tone of unpredictability and chaos to the film. In many ways this film will upset some viewers, it is, at times, purely an angry rant of a film, poking fun at and commenting on politics, celebrity and the cruel nature of people. There are some shocking scenes, such as a scene in which Frank reacts to people talking loudly in a cinema that may horrify some. I found the black comedy to be very much like previous Bobcat films, and the nature of the film, in which Frank rants and raves about his feelings, were written well and brought a smile to my face. It will, undoubtedly, depend on which side of the fence you sit on and how you feel about certain things being commented on by the characters.
It is a curious premise though. I wonder who Bobcat was aiming this film at. It is one of those films that will totally divide audiences, but in the end it doesn’t say enough about what initially it seemed to point towards. It is gory, at times outrageous and it was certainly designed to shock some people, but when that is taken away there is a little bit missing from the film, a real story that comes to a satisfying end, and this could have been much better had it been designed to be both, but sadly Goldthwait aimed his shotgun at a certain group of people while forgetting about those who wanted to experience a solid plot beneath the often-times hilarious and severe exterior.
I love this film and I have revisited it on many occasions since its release in 2011, but I also feel like there were some missed opportunities here. Bobcat ranted and raved here, but he didn’t bring enough along with it, something that will bring some to the conclusion that this film is just an angry and bitter reaction to American Idol, George Bush and youth culture. Still, seeing Frank shooting those who antagonised him, and taking shots are things that I share a disgust in, will always make me laugh and feel enjoyable. I recommend this, for sure, but it really depends on your opinions as to whether you’ll enjoy your experience.