Toronto 2011: Bobcat Goldthwait does violent satire in 'God Bless America'
During the Friday night premiere of his new film "God Bless America," writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait sat in an aisle seat in the middle of Toronto's Ryerson Theatre. His elation and surprise were obvious as the audience responded with rowdy, pumped-up enthusiasm to the film's wild rants and violent satire.
The movie itself is something of an oddball road-trip comedy crossed with a furious social critique. After divorced office drone Frank (Joel Murray, recently of "Mad Men") is told by his doctor he has a brain tumor, he sets off into a downward spiral. Having also lost his job and realizing his increasingly bratty daughter wants nothing to do with him, he projects his frustration out onto the world, setting off on a kill-spree rampage that targets meanness, rudeness and the coarsening of American culture.
Along the way he picks up teenage Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr, in a performance both sweet and psychotic) and takes her under his wing as the family he wishes he had.
Friday night's audience loudly received Frank and Roxy's rants on the state of what's wrong in the world, which included the Kardashians, talk radio and anger-driven TV newcasts, people who say "literally" too much, phones in movie theaters, high-fives and other assorted annoyances. Even such unlikely targets as the writer Diablo Cody and her movie "Juno" come under fire. "How can we be a civilization if we can't even be civilized?" asks Frank at one point.
"I really did think this could be my 'Springtime For Hitler,' " Goldthwait said Saturday regarding his surprise at the audience's reaction that night. "I hadn't shown it even to my friends. I was really shocked that people were behind what he was saying."
During his introduction before the screening Friday night, Goldthwait noted that the film really is for sale, not some 'Red State' [crap]," recalling the now-notorious "auction" at the Sundance Film Festival this year when Kevin Smith sold himself the rights to his latest project in a pique of divisive showmanship. Goldthwait's film is not entirely dissimilar to Smith's, however, as both seem driven by a genuine sense of pain and anger at where mainstream American culture is headed.
"I think people think that I hate and I'm angry at all these things," Goldthwait said. "And that's not really my point. It's that there's this weird undertow right now of people being disenfranchised, but they don't know who to react against. And what we really need to revolt against is ourselves."
Though still known to many for his outrageous stand-up comedy persona that allowed him to transition into film work — he first met "America" star Joel Murray when they both had roles in "One Crazy Summer" — Goldthwait has with his recent work as a writer-director on the films "Sleeping Dogs Lie" and "World's Greatest Dad" refashioned himself into a caustic chronicler of modern-day culture, able to blend subtle insights with sledgehammer conceptual gags.
Goldthwait figures that maybe 80% to 90% of Frank's rants in the movie are things he feels himself, with some of Roxy's lines mirroring the sentiments of his wife and daughter. "Except we're not homicidal," he hastens to add. If anything, many might feel the targets in "God Bless America" are too broad and too easy.
"I needed targets that are universal," he noted. "But I don't really care about the Kardashians. I have no personal ax to grind. It's people who talk about them I would like to shoot in the face. I don't care about the Kardashians, I really don't. I'm not bitter about their fame or money. I'm bitter that they're part of the distraction. It's the people who when I'm stuck in a room and people are talking — that I know about them. There's no reason I should ... listen to people talk about it."
— Mark Olsen in Toronto
Photo: "God Bless America." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival.