Saturday, September 10, 2011

TIFF Review 2011: "God Bless America"


(Midnight Madness)

(USA, 2011, 99 minutes)

Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait

Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Larry Miller, Geoff Peirson, Melinda Page Hamilton

For all of the (just) praise awarded to the works of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as the once-great The Simpsons, Bobcat Goldthwait deserves to be mentioned alongside the names of America’s most fearless and incendiary contemporary satirists—if only more people saw his films. From his debut “Shakes The Clown”, Bobcat never seemed to be able to break the festival circuit (blink and you might have caught “Sleeping Dogs Lie” in first run), or worst, the direct-to-video market (as befell his truly demented “World’s Greatest Dad” starring Robin Williams, with a cover that looks like it’s awaiting an additional Photoshop cut-and-past of Martin Short).

It’s unlikely that “God Bless America” will prove to be his breakthrough (if Robin Williams couldn’t do it, what chance does Bill Murray’s brother have?), which finds Goldthwait at his angriest yet with a tale of a bloody road trip for a 45-year old middle-aged loser and his teenage sidekick.

Anonymous salary-man Frank (Murray) can no longer tolerate the brain-softening climate of vanity and vapidity in which he ekes out a tolerable existence. His ex-wife hates him and seems intent on turning their daughter against him. Whining neighbours and their even whinier kid, office small talk and corporate speak, right wing blowhards, left wing political correctness, and television’s endless marathons of reality shows. He’s fired over a complaint to HR: the flowers he sent to a female coworker have brought him up on charges of sexual harassment.

Then, he’s diagnosed with a brain tumour...

With so little time left, will he be forced to spend it in a milieu where the highest priority on everyone’s minds seems to be another mindless singing competition, the excruciating “American Superstarz”? With nothing to lose, he purchases a handgun and hops in his car to drive to the studio in Los Angeles.

Along the way, he meets high school misfit Roxy (Barr), who shares an equal contempt for her classmates and so-called “authority figures”. He teaches her how to fire a gun, and she provides him with practice targets. First up, the impossibly horrible brat who stars in a “Gossip Girl”esque TV reality series…

Perhaps an easy target (has anyone made a “pro” reality-TV feature to date?), but at least Goldthwait pulls no punches in letting the schlockmeisters who have hijacked the airwaves get their justs. The film premiered on the eve of the tenth anniversary of September 11 and offers a scathing vision of his home country…

Murray, who starred with Goldthwait in “One Crazy Summer” and “Shakes The Clown”, is a familiar “oh that guy!” face from television, and might best be known to current audiences as Freddy Rumsen on “Mad Men” (he’s also in another much-anticipated TIFF entry “The Artist”). He’s well cast and is often faced with the thankless task of spewing some lengthy diatribes about society, celebrity, etc., but he’s makes for an endearing, passionate, and of course, pathologically dangerous schlubb.

Tara Lynn Barr, in her film debut, is a cross between Molly Ringwalk and Bonnie Parker (right down to the wardrobe that riffs on Dunaway’s iconic fashions) and manages to tread the line between precocious and downright terrifying winningly, even if a foul-mouthed, violent teenage girl isn’t quite as outrageous as Goldthwait had intended given recent screen offerings…

“God Bless America” was produced by Richard Kelly’s “Darko Entertainment” but no release date was set at the time of this writing.

AMENDED: Mark Cuban’s Magnet Releasing has acquired distribution rights and it will be available via video on demand and theatrical release in 2012.

© 2011 Robert J. Lewis