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God Bless America

Submitted by MBergeron on May 11, 2012 – 1:59 amOne Comment
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God Bless America skewers reality television and sends up current events with a vengeance. Scathing and yet somehow honest this satire, helmed by Bobcat Goldthwait, takes no prisoners and sets a high standard for others to follow. You really have to go back as far as Network (1976) for a film with the correct magnitude of sardonic culture shock for its era.

Like Paddy Chayefsky, Goldthwait has a touch for dialogue where the character comments on society even while defining their life choices. Think of Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell” rant from Network because God Bless America has at least two such sequences that revolve around the lead characters spouting off with razor sharp eloquence that until now has been missing in movies for years.

Goldthwait has different performing faces. When he’s doing his stand-up you’re likely to be reminded of roles he played in movies, wacky and often profane for no reason. (This month also sees the release of Golthwait’s latest stand-up dvd Bobcat Goldthwait: You Don’t Look the Same Either. Especially funny is his take on his probation for setting the Tonight Show on fire.)

Goldthwait’s directing touch though is crazy like the fox and subliminally seditious. Goldthwait makes some keen observations about elements of our present day society and yet somehow manages to aim the barrels both to the right and left. Diablo Cody, Woody Allen and Vladimir Nabokov get raked over the coals just the same as assholic conservative types, religious zealots, not to mention people who are rude in theaters, and reality television stars.

Joel Murray and Tara Lynn Barr play a pair of spree killers in God Bless America. But they’re not natural born killers; they only kill people who suck. GBA moves rapidly with both its narrative and body count.

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The story is advanced with monologues that depict such things as a modern world of reality television zombies and a time past (the 1970s) when Alice Cooper made the world a better place. Actually Cooper has a heavy influence in the movie, while not in it, being the subject of one monologue and the use of three of his songs: “I Never Cry,” “School’s Out” and “Hello Hooray.” Also effective is the use of The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” Not ironically, Cooper also appears physically in another release this week, Dark Shadows.

Free Press Houston spoke to Murray and Barr by phone this week and the topic naturally went to the monologues and how they were shot. Murray, who acted alongside Goldthwait in One Crazy Summer (1986) and played Milkman in Goldthwait’s directing debut Shakes the Clown (1991) as well as the policeman in last year’s The Artist, chuckled when I asked how many days they spent shooting his office cubicle monologue replying “That entire sequence was shot in half a day.” That encompasses some of the film’s finest verbiage as well as additional scenes in different cubicles. “When I read the script I was floored not just by the dialogue but also because Bob wanted me to play the lead,” adds Murray. One of the film’s key lines would be “Why have a civilization anymore when we’re no longer interested in being civilized.”

Barr’s motel monologue, which includes the Cooper riff, was so verbose that it must have taken a couple of days minimum.  “We shot 11 pages in half a day,” Barr confesses. Barr sees her teenage role as break from “the stereotype that I’m asked to read for in every script.” Aside from GBA’s intellectually quotient consider the filmmaking skills that can race through set-ups with both speed and dexterity. God Bless America looks slick, like what a studio would outlay (say $15-20-million) for one of their low budget efforts. There’s a fair amount of squibs and blood, which means stunt people and time consuming preparation. I mention to Murray that as low-fi as it seems the budget most have been at least $2 to $3-million. Murray laughs and says, “It was way, way below that, I can assure you.” Murray should get a lot of acclaim for his performance, at once righteous and yet so misguided. Barr, who technically is still a teen at 19 can count on God Bless America to propel her into the kind of edgy roles formerly aced by Chloe Moretz.

God Bless America, one of my favorite films released so far this year, is playing in an exclusive engagement at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks Theater.

- Michael Bergeron

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