GOD BLESS AMERICAApril 06, 2012
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: GOD BLESS AMERICA (Magnolia) is available now On Demand before in theaters on May 11, 2012
GOD BLESS AMERICA
Satirizing popular culture becomes an increasingly difficult job as media further saturates the public consciousness. Television and the Web provide a bottomless maw into which product must be shoveled so that consumers and advertisers will cough up time and money – and a little piece of their souls. The problem with the product is that it constantly needs to top itself in outrageousness, thereby edging closer to being parody itself.
Of course, the most piercing and prescient view of how media could literally end up driving people to murder is NETWORK, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. With an almost clairvoyant sense of what reality programming and news-as-entertainment would become, NETWORK was pitch-black comedy executed by creators who knew they didn’t have to go too far to show how American media one day would.
In the 36 years since NETWORK, viewers have been assaulted by real-life variations on the insane pitches that Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen took from program producers: shows about teen mothers, competitive weight loss, battles over plastic surgery, spousal swapping, consumption of any and all manner of food and non-food products, even fights over the unseen contents of storage lockers; crap that is so broadly drawn and laden with stereotypes that it feels like it jumped off the pages of MAD Magazine. Why satirize anything that’s already doing the job itself?
That was the question I asked as I watched Bobcat Goldthwait’s tedious and laugh-free GOD BLESS AMERICA. The story of the divorced, jobless, terminally ill Frank, GOD BLESS AMERICA moves to the insistent beat of the verbal and visual noise that emanates from screens that are seemingly everywhere – homes, offices, restaurants, phones. Driven to the edge by both his circumstances and the noxious narcissism, rudeness, and greed of virtually everyone around him, Frank embarks on a killing spree, picking off those he considers the worst offenders one by one.
Frank (Joel Murray, MAD MEN) makes fast friends with Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr, in her feature debut), a hyperverbal teen who resents comparisons to another loquacious adolescent, Juno. (Goldthwait has Roxy go off on a tear about Diablo Cody’s facile characters and shallow stories that sounds like nothing more than a diatribe he overheard from a disgruntled screenwriter at Starbucks) With a relationship both chaste and psychotically inappropriate, Frank and Roxy set off to track down all those they think are ruining society, including reality TV stars, noisy theater patrons, and people who use “literally” when they mean the opposite.
Goldthwait justifies Frank’s nuttiness by stuffing the character’s mouth full of hoary jeremiads about the way the media desensitize the populace and hasten the decline of civilization and civility. Frank’s railings are supported by parodies of Fox News, AMERICAN IDOL, and MY SWEET SIXTEEN that are all but indistinguishable from the very properties they’re lampooning. As a result, what Goldthwait almost certainly intended as scathing social commentary comes off as flat and uninspired sketch comedy that recalls the running-on-fumes final season of IN LIVING COLOR.
Murray is a skilled actor who employs a deadpan delivery similar to that of big brother Bill, but he leavens it with a vulnerability that makes Frank a somewhat sympathetic character, despite his resume as a spree killer. The mouthy Roxy is sketchily drawn – and, too conveniently, a victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather – but Barr’s performance is energetic and her manic approach plays off Murray’s diffidence well. But the speechifying of both characters repeatedly brings the film to a skidding halt and turns what should be sharp observations into pedantic sermonizing.
Former standup Goldthwait is no slouch when it comes to directing. He paid his dues working on television with Jimmy Kimmel, Dimitri Martin, and Dave Chappelle. As a feature filmmaker, he has always been drawn to finding the funny in dark subject matter, tackling bestiality in SLEEPING DOGS LIE and teen suicide with WORLD’S GREATEST DAD. But in GOD BLESS AMERICA, the targets of Goldthwait’s satirical arrows are big, broad, trite, and tired, and the film is a disappointing bore.
Chris Claro is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. He is a former Director of Promotion for Sundance Channel and now works as a writer, producer, and media educator. He is a regular contributor to dvdverdict.com and contributor to the Eyes and Ears section of huffingtonpost.com
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