TIFF ’11: God Bless America

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Film Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival
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Tara Lynne Barr and Joel Murray in a scene from God Bless AmericaThe combination of a unique name and a memorable performance in Police Academy forever cemented Bobcat Goldthwait’s spot in our cultural zeitgeist. He perpetuated and transformed this persona with a career as a stand-up comedian. But more recently, he’s been making a name for himself as a filmmaker. His latest picture is God Bless America.

Frank (Joel Murray) suffers from severe migraines; his daughter hates him; and his neighbours are inherently inconsiderate. He spends sleepless nights fantasizing about killing them and everyone else he thinks is a detriment to society. Then he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness. With nothing left to lose, Frank sets out to leave the world a better place. Inspired by his actions and with an extensive kill list of her own, a teenage girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) convinces Frank to let her be his partner. Together, they leave a cross-country trail of discourteous villains.

To say this film is a social commentary is somewhat of an understatement. Goldthwait makes no effort to mask his disdain for many of the cultural obsessions to arise in recent years. A night of channel surfing reveals a parade of parodies, including caricatures of Jackass, My Super Sweet 16, The O’Reilly Factor and, most notably, American Idol. To further illustrate the awfulness of the latter, a mentally challenged man is made famous by his appearance on and dismissal from the show. Frank goes on a number tirades, explaining what’s wrong with these shows, the people on them and those that watch them – most of which was received with applause by the agreeing Midnight Madness audience. However, despite the ease with which one could agree with Frank as he voiced what so many of us are often thinking, the film seemed preachy at times; maybe hammering his point home a little too hard.

That said, Murray really personifies this role. His quiet demeanour and passionate rants are the heart of this movie. In spite of the lunacy of his actions, he doesn’t appear to be the story’s villain; nor is he really a hero, though he is somewhat of an extreme vigilante protecting the world from self-centred, spoiled brats and movie talkers (that’s right, beware). He creates an odd relationship with the audience that teeters between empathy and necessary detachment. Barr’s Roxy is a bizarre amalgamation of sweet, naïve, vicious and cynical. She wants to kill everyone, from Twihards to jocks to people that give high-fives, but tries to romanticize her relationship with Frank and fish for compliments to lift her self-esteem. Although let’s be clear, God Bless America is not about a May-December romance – Frank abhors Woody Allen and “pedophiles” like him. They are “platonic spree killers.”

Writer/director Goldthwait assured the audience he (probably) wouldn’t change the film to secure distribution. But if you happen to see a cut of the film that doesn’t include baby skeet shooting, you’ll know he compromised so the rest of you would have the opportunity to see his commentary on the United States. “It’s probably good I’m premiering the film outside of America,” quipped Goldthwait. Adding, “This truly is a premiere – I finished it Tuesday.” By the way, he’s a very funny man.

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