Sunday, 16 September 2012

God Bless America

Once every few years a film will come along that feels as though it was made just for you. If you’ve seen God Bless America then I hope that you enjoyed it but I must tell you now, this film was made exclusively for me. Seriously, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait must have snuck into my room one night with some sort of brain scanner and lifted the idea from this movie from my head. I’ve had numerous conversations with my girlfriend about the wonders of living in a world where you could just choose people who annoy or anger you to stop existing. I wouldn’t like to ever kill someone but it would be lovely if there was some switch that when flicked could just transport all of the mean, cruel, talentless, waster dickheads to some far away island where they could live out their lives without being of bother to the people whose lives they make a misery.

God Bless America takes some of my darkest thoughts, blows them up and adds some violence and a coherent story to make a fantastic satire of modern Western Civilisation. Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) is a middle aged man who is annoyed by his neighbours and sickened by the putridness of society. After losing his job and being diagnosed with a brain tumour he decides enough is enough and travels to Virginia where he kills an obnoxious teenage girl who was the ‘star’ of a particularly blood pressure raising episode of My Super Sweet 16. A classmate of the girl called Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) sees the murder and persuades Frank to take her on a killing spree, shooting those who spread hatred and fear and people who are repellent, abhorrent or disrespectful.  

The tone is set within three minutes when Frank fantasises about shooting to pieces the noisy baby of the egotistical and contemptible parents next door. To me that was the film’s way of giving the audience an out. It gets in something quite horrific early on as if to say “look, you’ve seen what this is going to be like. If it’s not for you, leave now”. I’m not sure what it says about me but this film was for me. The film is a brilliant swipe at modern celebrity obsessed, fame hungry, flag saluting, get rich quick, YouTube trolling, Chris Brown Twitter following 'bought to you by McDonalds' culture that is peddled by the likes of MTV, ITV and E!. The film opens with Frank channel hopping late at night and coming across the most horrendous and stomach-churning TV shows which are parodies of real life shows along the lines of America’s Next Top Model, The Kardashians, X Factor, American Idol, Fox News, Jersey Shore etc.. etc… Basically all the TV shows which stupid people watch so that they can fit in or feel part of a group while laughing at people less fortunate than themselves or idolising fake, idiotic, orange, vomit inducing morons. Frank understandably, like most people who are able to think for themselves detests this sort of drivel and after witnessing his young daughter being influenced by it decides to make a difference and try to put a stop to it.

Frank is joined on his killing spree by a mature teenage girl who claims to have been raped every night by her crack head mother’s boyfriend. Frank is uneasy about having a young girl on his journey of reckoning and the awkward fact that a middle age man is travelling with a vivacious teenage girl is hit head on quite early when Roxy turns to Frank and asks if he is attracted to her. He tries to explain that he is not and it’s inappropriate to have such discussions with her but the uneasy relationship remains a crucial part of the plot right the way to the end. You never for one moment believe that Frank is interested in Roxy sexually but it still feels uncomfortable at times. There are obvious comparisons to be made too between this film and the likes of Leon and Taxi Driver.

There was a danger that a film like this could have been merely a cheap, thrown together idea but in Bobcat Goldthwait’s hands it ends up being a well put together movie. It never feels cheap and the effects and cinematography are accomplished. Both Murray and Barr deliver solid performances but the film is about its message. Towards the climax, Frank delivers a piece to camera about the ills of modern society and urges people to just be nice in a scene that is awfully reminiscent of the ending of The Great Dictator. A lot like that film, God Bless America tries to turn the camera on society to say “look what you’ve become and look what is happening around you”. 

One of the many standout scenes for me focussed on a particular bugbear of mine, obnoxious people in cinemas. Frank and Roxy head to a cinema to see a documentary about the Vietnam War only to have it ruined by people talking, texting, throwing popcorn and just being downright rude. Their response? Shooting every single one of them bar the girl who remained respectful to the film and other patrons. Despite the violence though my favourite scenes were those in which Frank and Roxy discussed the world as two intelligent adults. They talked about music and politics and the problems with society rather than who was evicted on Big Brother or what the Justin Beibers hair looks like or which reality TV star has had a new sex tape. It was in these scenes that we got to know the characters and understand why they take the measures they do, illegal and wrong though they are.

The violence and nature of the plot are obviously going to alienate a large proportion of the population but for me God Bless America a film which everyone should watch along with the likes of Made in Dagenham, Shindler’s List and Modern Times regardless of their politics or IQ as part of their sociological education. This is a film which won’t be to most people’s taste but I thought it was a superb film full of interesting ideas, presented in an over the top, darkly comic and in the end caring manner.  


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