MCN Columnists
Heather Havrilesky

By Heather Havrilesky hhavrilesky@gmail.com

Review: GOD BLESS THIS MESS

With “God Bless America,” Bob Goldthwait takes aim at slow-moving targets and shoots himself in the foot

The only thing worse than the sudden, crushing realization that much of American pop culture is vile, hateful, and stupid is watching a movie in which the main character has this sudden, crushing realization, then proceeds to lecture other characters on said realization. As a result, Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” is pretty much doomed from the start, since our hero, Frank (Joel Murray), launches into his diatribe a few minutes after the movie begins.

To be fair, though, he’s up against a lot, even this early in the film. The very first scene of the movie, which I won’t give away, is supposed to be shocking but just comes off as juvenile, pointless gore. Next, we’re forced to sit through a lengthy scene in which Frank watches several fictional television programs that aren’t exaggerations or parodies of real programs so much as direct carbon copies of what we can watch on our own TVs in the real world. Thus do we witness “American Superstar,” a singing competition featuring a British judge who shouts “Do you have a mental problem?” at a fat, tuneless kid while a Latino judge and a black judge laugh along. Yes, this show is just like “American Idol,” only far less interesting or funny. Next, there’s the Fox News-like pundit and the VH1 catfight show, both of them more frantic but less colorful versions of the real deal.

By the time we meet Frank’s coworkers (who are uniformly idiots) and his daughter (who is a bratty, shallow jerk) and his boss (who is a mindless drone), we’re already flat-lining. Murray, who may be best known as Freddy Rumsen on “Mad Men,” isn’t particularly funny here, and instead of setting us up with some warped or exaggerated scenes to elicit our laughter, Goldthwait only manages to alienate us by having Frank imagine blowing away his coworkers with a handgun. Similar to the bland imitations of shows we’re forced to endure at the start of the film, these lackluster scenes come off like tone-deaf, repetitive versions of far better scenes from “Office Space.” Worst of all, though, Frank launches into a self-righteous outburst about “American Superstar,” of all low-hanging fruit. “Everything is so cruel now, I just want it to stop. I mean, nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV,” he informs his cubicle mate, sounding remarkably similar to a Fox News pundit himself. “No one has any shame anymore, and we’re supposed to celebrate it!”

Now throw in a handgun and an unlikeable teenager named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) and our fate is sealed. Sadly, Roxy shares Frank’s passion for delivering lengthy lectures on the pathetic state of our culture — when she’s not raving about the super-coolness of Alice Cooper, that is. Of Cooper, she gushes, “Not only did he introduce macabre theatrics into rock, he also invented the power ballad with a little song called ‘Only Women Bleed.’”

Yes, that teenager onscreen just said “macabre theatrics.” Naturally, this should be a set up for the next bit of macabre theatrics, preferably a scene in which said teenager is drawn, quartered, and fed to a pack of wild dogs. Instead, though, we’re meant to savor a multi-state killing spree, one in which our heroic pair predictably track down the people who appear in the limp imitations of TV shows we saw at the beginning of the movie and, after the people from the TV shows say things that aren’t very surprising or insightful or eye-opening, they get shot. Frank and Roxy don’t feel any remorse or anything interesting like that, but they do talk a lot about stuff that sucks. For example, “people who use rock star as an adjective” suck, and also “people who use the term ‘edgy,’ ‘in your face,’ or ‘extreme’” and “people who say Namaste” and “people who misuse the term ‘literally.’”

This is what we get instead of dialogue and plot: An unintelligent hipster’s Twitter feed. And the more these two decry the aggressive stupidity and meanness of the whole world, the more they shoot people in the face and run over them in their cars and laugh and high-five about it.

And that would be ok, really, if there were even the slightest hint of a wiser perspective on the situation. In Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad,” for example, we’re aware that Lance (Robin Williams) is fooling himself throughout most of the movie, and that he’s in a lot of pain thanks to his self-deluded state. This understanding makes Lance’s odd choices entertaining. If someone – anyone — would just acknowledge the fact that Frank and Roxy are taking part in exactly the sort of knee-jerk, idiotic, violent behavior that they claim to loathe so deeply, that would at least be a start. But hinting at such a thing would take a tiny thimbleful of cleverness or thoughtfulness or wisdom, and sadly, “God Bless America” has not even the faintest trace of any of these. Instead, Bobcat Goldthwait has succeeded in creating a movie exactly as vile, hateful and stupid as the culture he decries so vehemently.

Sure, maybe that’s the point. But if you want to revel in the supreme crappiness of America, do yourself a favor and rent (or rewatch) Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy,” which is just like “God Bless America” except with laughs, imagination, and entertaining strangeness where the pointless violence, tedious lecturing, and chafing teenagers go. Otherwise, prepare to sit through an edgy, extreme and in-your-face regurgitation of everything you see on TV.

One Response to “Review: GOD BLESS THIS MESS”

  1. al says:

    It’s hard to find the humor when someone is making fun of YOU.

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 7.9 3980 -69% 97.2
Guardians of the Galaxy 6.9 3697 -44% 204.4
The Expendables 3 5.8 3221 NEW 5.8
Let's Be Cops 5.6 3094 NEW 14
The Giver 4.7 3003 NEW 4.7
Into the Storm 2.3 3434 -65% 25.9
The Hundred-Foot Journey 2.1 2043 -43% 18.6
Lucy 1.6 2520 -44% 103.8
Step Up: All In 0.75 2072 -74% 9.9
Hercules 0.6 1475 -67% 66.6
Also Debuting
Singham Returns 0.2 127
Anjaan 61,500 57
The Trip to Italy 32,600 6
Frank 5,500 1
Life After Beth 5,300 2
Lovers 3,500 9
Fort McCoy 2,600 2
Abuse of Weakness 2,600 1
Dinosaur 13 2,500 14
Jelousy 1,700 1
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
It was supposed to be a horse race (notwithstanding Belmont) but at the finish line the singular teen romance The Fault in Our Stars left the competition in the dust with an estimated $48.1 million debut. Conversely, the frame’s other major release Edge of Tomorrow proved disappointing in a distant second at $28.9 million.
Exclusive newcomers were strong, including a solo Manhattan campaign of $9,400 for Citizen Koch. Much-ballyhooed abortion-themed rom-com Obvious Child proved fertile with $84,100 at four dispensaries.
In the niches, Indian import Holiday partied fair at $373,000 while Pinoy romantic comedy Maybe This Time grossed an impressive return of $552,000 on a trifling 51 screens.
Revenues for the session exceeded $160 million and ebbed 3% from last weekend’s tally. It was 8% improved from 2013 when the debut of The Purge posted $34 million and holdovers of Fast & Furious 6 and Now You See Me duked it out for place position with respective box office of $19.6 million and $19 million.
Industry tracking pitted The Fault in Our Stars against Edge of Tomorrow with the former demonstrating a slight edge as it picked up momentum toward opening day. The adaptation of John Green’s YA novel of teens who strike sparks in a cancer support group had a prognosis of $35 million.
The tide truly turned when Fault generated $8.2 million and Edge took in $1.8 million from Thursday previews. Crystal ball-gazers upped the ante to $55 million but the picture took another surprise turn with an unexpected 31% drop from Friday to Saturday business. Strong WOM in exit polling bodes well to broaden the opening weekend crowd, a predictaly 82% of women and was 79% aged 25-years and younger.
Edge of Tomorrow appeared to suffer from the amusement park factor with the movie crowd opting to skip this particular fun ride. Tracking had pegged the pic to open at between $32 million and $34 million. Reviews were upbeat for the futuristic mayhem with a Groundhog Day twist that opened a week earlier in 27 international territories to $18.7 million.
Exit demos also indicated that the sci-fier wasn’t particularly stepping on Fault’s toes with a 61% male tilt and 73% of the audience aged 25-years and older. A studio spokesman expressed confidence for a strong second weekend hold but history and upcoming competition definitely have the picture bucking considerable odds. International prospects are already ahead of Edge of Darkness’s likely final domestic tally with a second weekend estimated at $82 million that included a $25 million bow in China, $16.6 million in South Korea and Russia with $8.6 million.
Open Road's Chef expanded effectively again, prepping $10 million domestically.
Weekend (estimates) June 6 - 8, 2014
Title
Distributor
Gross (average)
% change *
Theaters
Cume
The Fault in Our Stars
Fox
48.1 (15,160)
NEW
3173
48.1
Maleficent
BV
33.6 (8,520)
-52%
3948
127.5
Edge of Tomorrow
WB
28.9 (8,280)
NEW
3490
28.9
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
14.9 (4,090)
-54%
3639
189
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Uni
7.2 (2,270)
-57%
3160
30.1
Godzilla
WB
6.0 (1.920)
-50%
3110
185.1
Neighbors
Uni
5.2 (1,940)
-36%
2674
137.8
Blended
WB
4.0 (1,370)
-51%
2928
36.5
Chef
Open Road
2.5 (1,940)
32%
1298
10.3
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
1.9 (1,290)
-46%
1481
196.3
Million Dollar Arm
BV
1.8 (1,120)
-49%
1643
31.4
Belle
Searchlight
.75 (1,580)
-40%
476
7.6
Rio 2
Fox
.72 (1,030)
-35%
702
125.6
Maybe This Time
ABS
.55 (10,820)
NEW
51
0.55
The Other Woman
Fox
.48 (980)
-65%
489
83.2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
.43 (1,360)
-31%
317
255.9
Holiday
Big Pictures
.37 (2,590)
NEW
144
0.37
Heaven is for Real
Sony
.37 (830)
-54%
446
88.8
Words and Pictures
Roadside Attractions
.29 (2,940)
269%
98
0.54
Grand Seduction
eOne
.28 (3,020)
-13%
97
0.82
The Lego Movie
WB
.26 (960)
-5%
274
255.8
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fox Searchlight
.24 (1,280)
-37%
185
57.8
Ida
Music Box
.21 (2,540)
-10%
84
1.3
The Immigrant
Weinstein
.19 (1,320)
-39%
145
1.4
Divergent
Lionsgate
.19 (650)
-43%
298
149
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films)
$156.60
% Change (Last Year)
8%
% Change (Last Week)
-3%
Also debuting/expanding
Fed Up
Weinstein Co.
83,600 (950)
-49%
88
1.2
Obvious Child
A24
84,100 (21,030)
4
0.08
Cold in July
IFC
68,900 (970)
-38%
71
0.25
Night Moves
Cinedgm
48,500 (1,520)
126%
32
30,800
Lunchbox
Sony Classics
50,700 (1,100)
-9%
46
4.1
Filmistaan
UTV
35,500 (1,480)
24
0.04
WolfCop
Echolands
34,900 (4,360)
8
0.03
Ping Pong Summer
Gravitas
26,400 (1,760)
15
0.03
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Weinstein Co.
23,200 (5,800)
4
0.02
Only Lovers Left Alive
Sony Classics
22,800 (760)
-53%
30
1.6
Tracks
Mongrel
13,800 (2,760)
5
0.01
Citizen Koch
Variance
9,400 (9,400)
1
0.01
Trust Me
Paladin
5,100 (565)
9
0.01
Burning Blue
Film Arcade
4,600 (380)
12
0.01
The Case Against 8
Submarine
4,300 (1,430)
3
0.01
Test
Variance
2,400 (800)
3
0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014)
Distributor
Box Office
Market Share
Warner Bros. (12)
728.5
16.80%
Buena Vista (11)
677.1
15.60%
20th Century Fox (11)
615.2
14.20%
Sony (11)
577.7
13.30%
Universal (10)
540.5
12.50%
Paramount (8)
322.2
7.40%
Lionsgate (13)
285.4
6.60%
Open Road (6)
95.1
2.20%
Fox Searchlight (5)
83.7
1.90%
Weinstein Co. (12)
76.5
1.80%
Relativity (5)
75.5
1.80%
FreeStyle (6)
68.9
1.60%
Focus (6)
39.2
0.90%
eOne/Seville (14)
35.3
0.80%
Other * (142)
107.9
2.60%
4328.7
100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%
Top Domestic Grossers (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014) *
Title
Distributor
Box Office
The Lego Movie
WB
255,590,340
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
255,447,104
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
194,388,396
Godzilla
WB
179,093,006
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
174,401,266
Divergent
Lionsgate
148,811,524
Frozen *
BV
137,534,677
Ride Along
Uni
134,965,071
Neighbors
Uni
132,600,495
Lone Survivor
Uni/eOne
125,026,404
Rio 2
Fox
124,909,565
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Fox
110,162,081
300: Rise of an Empire
WB
106,601,189
Noah
Par
100,950,258
Maleficent
BV
93,846,968
Non-Stop
Uni
91,869,306
Heaven is for Real
Sony
88,412,645
American Hustle *
Sony/eOne
82,661,672
The Other Woman
Fox
81,725,819
The Monuments Men
Sony
78,132,865
* does not include 2013 Box Office