Bobcat Goldthwait bloodies the fun in God Bless America
It might be time to give a name to an emerging subgenre of brutally dark comedies focused on America’s decline—films like Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, Kevin Smith’s Red State, and, most recently, Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America. Empire Burlesque, perhaps? Collapse core?
“I’m fine with that. I like that,” Goldthwait says, acknowledging the developing trend. “But it’ll take Michael Bay’s version of it before it’s a hit.”
The filmmaker, still probably better known for an intriguing standup career that took a left turn from Hollywood stardom to an opening slot on Nirvana’s final tour, is talking to the Georgia Straight from the airport in Syracuse, New York. We’re pleased to report that he made it through security. “I didn’t get jammed up by the man, so everything’s cool,” he says.
Goldthwait is on his way to Vancouver to present a retrospective of his equally intriguing career as a director. In his latest—getting its local premiere when it opens at the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (June 16)—a recently fired desk jockey with a brain tumour, Frank (Joel Murray), takes bloody revenge on a society diminished by blaring reality TV, poisonous shock jocks, fag-hating religious extremists, and bile-spewing Fox pundits who wrap themselves in the flag. Along for the ride is a teenage girl, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who has her own laundry list of “people who deserve to die”, including anybody who dresses their baby in a band T-shirt.
Interestingly, Goldthwait begins this delirious howl of rage with a shot that explicitly mimics the climax of Taxi Driver, suggesting that we live on the other side of Travis Bickle’s 40-year-old American nightmare. A later scene featuring a gun dealer is another direct lift from the Scorsese classic.
“Originally, it was going to be two little boys on bicycles come up and sell the guns to him,” Goldthwait says. “And it was just kinda too funny. At that point in the movie, for me, you needed to feel like an atom bomb was about to go off. I think the thing with two little Mexican boys would have seemed probably racist, but it also probably would have been a little too comical.”
That said, Goldthwait obviously doesn’t shrink from crossing any number of lines, forcing the viewer to take queasy satisfaction in Frank’s initial choice of targets—again harking back to the moral conundrums floated in Taxi Driver. “Hopefully, at the beginning, you’re actually on board,” Goldthwait remarks, “even though you feel guilty and weird, and you do realize it’s a comedy. Hopefully, by the end you realize even Frank is guilty, and we’re all guilty. That’s the idea. I didn’t wanna have it be just a straight-up vigilante movie of things I don’t like. I wanted to have it be a little more of an indictment on all of us.”
In other words, while God Bless America is more bluntly transgressive than Goldthwait’s outstanding 2009 film, World’s Greatest Dad—and there will be those who simply groove on Frank and Roxy’s killing spree—it’s still no less smart or challenging. Goldthwait says his intentions are crystallized in a single, viciously funny line about screenwriter Diablo Cody. But he has to do an exaggerated theatrical sputter before explaining his reasons for putting it there (seriously—it’s a really mean line).
“One,” he begins, half-giggling, “my daughter’s a really funny young lady, and whenever she says anything funny, people go, ‘You’re like Juno,’ and she says, ‘I want to stab them in the throat when they say I’m like Juno.’ And the other reason; Frank wants to kill people that deserve to die, and, clearly, Diablo Cody doesn’t deserve to die. But by the time you put that in there, the viewer’s going, ‘Well, I like Diablo Cody,’ you know? Half the room does. I mean, I know it’s obvious, but you can’t just start killing people you don’t like. So it should start dividing up the room by that part of the movie.”
Notably, Goldthwait mentions that he had another filmmaker in mind when he started work on God Bless America. “Although I didn’t capture the way he makes tension really great, it was my take on a [Quentin] Tarantino movie,” he says, echoing, interestingly enough, Smith’s MO for Red State. But much as we love him, God Bless America has a chewy moral centre conspicuously absent from anything made by the inglorious bastard himself.
“My last three movies are about something,” Goldthwait offers. “And that might be simplistic, but I do look at them as kind of almost like fables. They usually do have a question I’m asking of either myself or the audience. And that’s because if I’m going to expend all that energy on making a movie, I want it to be about something. I just don’t want it to be about style or selling tickets.”
Watch the trailer for God Bless America.