God Bless America
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Opens May 11
The Color Wheel
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
May 18-24 at BAMcinématek
The idiocracy is upon us and facing violent revolt in Bobcat Goldthwait’s single-minded revenge fantasy God Bless America—the latest and most literal expression of revulsion with pop-culture cannibalism and brash, materialistic selfishness. Middle-aged Syracuse cubicle dweller Frank (Joel Murray) rants to any who will listen about mean-spirited reality shows, the prevailing lack of human decency, etc. When no one really listens, he starts to talk with guns, a curdmudgeonly vigilante punishing not crime but bad attitudes and crap culture, who is soon joined in his moronicidal mission by a compatibly nihilistic teenage girl, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). If you’ve ever wanted to see multiple people blown away for being dumbasses tout court, this is the movie for you (soon to be available as a cellphone game?).
God Bless America is another in Goldthwait’s what-if scenarios about human nature, turning off bland main street down dark alleys, from the bestiality and ostracism of Sleeping Dogs Lie to the suicide and parental exploitation of World’s Greatest Dad. The results of these surprising yet unsurprised experiments are not always so encouraging; by the time of GBA, his beleaguered protagonist is conceded as a genuinely warped individual, no matter how right he is about the cynical recycling of trash culture and the awfulness of his neighbors, or how shat upon he is by his divorced wife and superbrat daughter. Frank’s bilious post-weekend monologue in a memorably one-sided office scene—this is before the actual act of killing seems to staunch the flow, or at least replace it with one-liners—sounds like an unedited blog jeremiad, doubtlessly the result of those words marching on the inside of the man’s skull night after night.
It’s partly the voice of someone who, earlier in his career, made his way through an earlier version of the shtick mill, as a yowling comedian in the 1980s. But the vicarious satisfaction of watching Frank hit the road and find hangable offenses everywhere—significantly, this new form of law enforcement does not seem to work as a lasting deterrent—is purposefully strained. Even amidst the untrammeled black comedy, Murray understands Frank is far gone, retaining a bone-deep despair, with the movie’s matter-of-fact low-budget looks a contrast to another crud compendium, Natural Born Killers, and an echo of Tim and Eric’s surprisingly dystopic effort earlier this year. By the time a mocked reality-show contestant is caterwauling “Theme from Mahogany,” it feels like a Brecht reference.
Frank might have added two to his to-do list if the neurotically nattering stalled siblings Colin and JR of The Color Wheel had their own show. The homebody brother (writer-director Alex Ross Perry of Impolex) and aspiring-news-anchor sister (co-writer Carlen Altman, a hoot to listen to) undertake a Boston road trip to pick up her stuff from an ex (Bob Byington as her withering former professor). Partly a vituperative buddy routine, partly a running series of neighboring ego-bearing monologues, and all shot on black-and-white 16mm, Perry’s film understands much about a certain kind of sibling relationship—the candid wisdom and shared immaturity that seem inseparable, the disorienting mirror to oneself, the abiding tolerance. All that plus a party scene to rival that in Frownland, but in many ways just as queasy a movie to watch.