Last night I had what can only be described as a very catheteric experience. (I’m trying to use big words in this movie review post.)
On Netflix streaming (no less) I caught a little flick entitled God Bless America. For once Netflix was useful. Who knew?
Have you ever had something tap directly into your soul? That nakedly stark moment of reality, “Somebody out there knows exactly how I feel.” Watching this film was depressing, unique, euphoric, inspiring and so much more. I don’t typically go for fantasy but this was 100 minutes of sublime bliss.
THE FOLLOWING REVIEW (and the enclosed trailer video) HAS BEEN APPROVED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY BY THE LOTION BITCHER ASSOCIATION OF THE ABYSS, INC.
You have been warned.
Still here? You sicko. OK, here goes.
Disclaimer: This film is offensive to many. For some just the title alone will be enough to make their hair stand on end. This is an angry film. It’s a gloriously unhappy marriage of Idiocracy and Saw. It criticizes us and what has been happening to our country. It has gratuitous violence. At times it can be gory. It is highly inappropriate. It has a point to make and it is not subtle. This movie would be completely fucked up except for one saving grace: It’s pretty damn accurate.
Ultimately this is not a perfect film. But it did effectively tap into some of my feelings. And, I haven’t laughed so hard in a long, long time. You want to judge me for liking it? Perhaps I don’t “deserve” to live.
The movie is the story of Frank, a man who is struggling with the world changing around him. He suffers from migraines, and each night he sits alone in his living room and watches the worst of humanity on his television while knocking back a cold one.
The TV brings him a depressing mix of dumb-downed commercials (the pig fart ringtone), bad reality TV and freakish disturbing and depressing news. In one show apparently about women living in a house and fighting with each other, one of the combatants reaches down and extracts a used hygiene product at throws it at her enemy. Reality TV is there to capture the moment, and in slow motion, and twenty times in a row. The news is equally bad with stories ripped right out of today’s headlines, including Westboro Baptist Church protesters complete with signs. Lastly, there’s a talent contest reality TV show where singers audition to become “American Superstars.” It is here that Frank sees Steven for the first time, a very bad singer who may also be partially mentally challenged.
America responds to Steven by making him a viral internet sensation, which leaves Frank to compare the TV show to ancient gladiators in Rome and ask, “Who are we that we now make fun of retards for our amusement?”
Frank lives alone and shares a wall with the family from hell. They make him late to work by blocking in his car at the curb, then acting like they might not move their car out of his way when he asks. Frank viscously and gruesomely blows the entire family away, including the baby who gets flung in the air like a clay pigeon, but it’s only a dream sequence fantasy.
On top of all of this, Frank has a pretty bad day. His coworkers are obsessed about celebrities and Steven’s performance last night on American Superstars. When his coworker irritates him, Frank can’t help but mouth off about it all. We feel for the guy even as we know he’s losing it.
Frank gets called in for a meeting and we all know what’s coming. He’s getting fired. It turns out he made a coworker feel uncomfortable by sending her flowers. His supervisor asks why he did that. Frank says he was told she was having a bad day and he thought it would make her feel better. His 11 years with the company are over. A security guard is there to allow him to gather his things and escort him from the building.
On the way home, Frank stops to see his doctor. Bad news. He has a tumor and there is nothing to be done. When the doctor’s cell phone rings in the middle of the meeting, he tells Frank, “I have to take this.” It’s the dealership with bad news about the car he wanted. He then flings profanities and threatens to kick ass until he gets the vehicle he wants. Frank, still reeling from the news of his pending death, can only sit dumbstruck and watch.
Frank calls his ex-wife and finds out that daughter doesn’t want to see him. His house is “boring” because he doesn’t have electronic devices. He says they can go to the park instead. The visitation gets canceled. Frank realizes that his daughter is becoming a younger version of Chloe. When his ex buys the daughter a Blackberry, the girl has a fit. She wanted an iPhone. Frank wonders why his ex bought either, but she doesn’t understand. She thinks it’s about the iPhone.
Yeah, a bad day. The first 30 minutes of this movie are pure delicious torture. The film is pitch-perfect darkness and we know exactly how Frank feels.
That night, back on his sofa, Frank watches more TV. Why doesn’t he just turn the damn thing off? He drinks his beer and slowly unpacks his handgun. In the box we see his dog tags and momentos of his military service. With the “My Sweet 16 Birthday Party” reality show blaring on the television, he brings the gun up and puts it in his mouth. His finger moves to the trigger and starts to squeeze as Chloe, the birthday girl, is taken out to the driveway for her present. It’s a brand new car complete with bow. Chloe has a fit. “I told you BLEEP I wanted a BLEEP Escalade!” Her fit is one for the ages.
Finally, at long last, we see a wee twinkle in Frank’s eye. He has one more thing to do before he blows his own head off. Chloe is about to get whacked.
The rest of the movie actually feels fairly formulaic. Frank meets a young woman who, for reasons unknown, wants to join Frank on his murderous rampage. They form an uneasy team as they decide to kill everyone they feel “deserves” it. In one of the repetitive notes of the film, they riff lists of people who should be killed. “Anyone who refers to their boobs as The Girls. And Green Day.” What the hell do they have against Green Day, dammit??? One thing is clear: Their list is really open-ended.
During their travels they meet all sorts of assholes who meet predictable fates. When they walked into a movie theater my wife looked at me and said, “Oh God. Here we go. You shouldn’t be watching this!” Just like real life, assholes show up and sit very close. It goes exactly like you’d predict except and, when Frank has finally had enough, he stands up and you know it isn’t going to go well for the assholes. His young female partner says, “Let me handle this.” She grabs his gun and opens fire. The scene is as hilarious and about as feel good as you’d expect.
They encounter a rude asshole who takes two parking spots. When they ask him if he’s really going to park that way, he tells them to fuck off. Wrong answer. Again we cheer.
Frank is just an average guy pushed over the edge by a really bad day and the uncivilized world going pointless around him. He’s eloquent and talks (for our benefit) about how he feels. After the first 30 minutes, though, it begins to feel a little preachy and a little less funny. Although they’re the oddest couple around, the police never catch on. The film loses focus and we start to drift.
The film meanders a bit until the big finale which takes place, somewhat predictably, on the stage of American Superstars. Frank ends up with Steven, who has a little surprise of his own, but I won’t spoil it and tell you how it goes.
The funniest bits of this movie are the way it so accurately makes fun of American institutions all around us that we take for granted. There’s also an obnoxious FOX News type political demagogue. And some of the fictionalized versions of the things they skewer are so accurately portrayed you actually wonder if the filmmakers got sued.
Ultimately the film works as a damning critique of the most unsavory pieces of Americana. It asks important questions. It illustrates many of our problems quite effectively. But it makes no attempts at solutions. Overall it’s an enjoyable trip. I laughed damn hard several times. The kind of laughter that rarely visits guys like me and Frank. We’re too busy being upset and pissed off about everything, justifiably or not. But, overall, the film is a little bit of a miss.
If you like your humor really dark and feel the country is going to hell, this may be an enjoyable movie for you. The first half hour is classic. The rest of the movie you might see the point but feel it is not so funny. And everyone else including the easily offended should probably enjoy it altogether.
I give this movie two thumbs up. Way the fuck up. It’s on Netflix streaming. What the hell? Give the damn thing a try and see if it actually works. If it does, be sure let me know what you think.