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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: God Bless America

July 3rd, 2012

God Bless America - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

God Bless America had a lot of pre-release buzz, certainly more than most Indie films have. However, its reviews were only good and not great, while it struggled at the box office. Its box office numbers were not helped by its Video on Demand premiere weeks earlier. Now that it is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray, will it find a more receptive audience? Or was it too much hype and not enough substance?

The Movie

Joel Murray stars as Frank Murdoch, who we meet late one night while he's flipping through the channels. He has insomnia and migraines and just can't sleep and this has put him in a bad mood. He hates a lot of things. He hates his loud obnoxious neighbors. He hates how, after his divorce, his wife took his daughter and moved to a different town and now he doesn't get to see her much. He hates his job, especially his co-workers. At least he won't have to worry about them, as he's fired for sending flowers to the receptionist's home. He especially hates the reality TV culture we've devolved into, one that seems to worship shallowness and just plain being mean. His outlook on life has gotten so bad that he spends his day fantasizing about going on a spree killing. He gets some especially bad news: His migraines are caused by a brain tumor that is so large that surgery would likely kill him. It's too much to take and that night he decides to kill himself. However, while watching a Reality TV show about spoilt rich kid, Chloe, he has an epiphany. Before killing himself, he will kill Chloe.

So Frank steals his neighbor's car, drives from New York to Virginia that night, and tries to kill Chloe. It doesn't quite go according to plan. His first attempt, sticking a rag in the gas tank and lighting it on fire, doesn't work. (Shooting her in the head does work.) Also, there's plenty of witnesses, including Roxy Harmon, one of Chloe's classmates. Roxy tracks Frank, because she thinks what he did was awesome. She's less impressed when she finds out he's planning on killing himself. At first she wants to watch him do it, but then talks him out of it. She does make a convincing argument. If he kills himself now, people will think he killed Chloe because he was in love with her. She suggests instead he should kill people who really deserve it. He doesn't agree with any of her suggestions, until she mentions Chloe's Mom and Dad. He agrees with that plan and heads to their house right away.

Afterward, Roxy wants to go with Frank when he continues his killing spree. He thinks it's a bad idea and wants her to return to her family. But when she tells him of her horrible home life, he agrees to let her come along, a weird friendship begins. It's probably going to end poorly.

God Bless America is a black comedy, which is a really hard genre to get right. Bobcat Goldthwait gets it right, for the most part. It is extremely sharp in its attacks, even if some of the targets are misplaced. (For instance, Vladimir Nabokov didn't write Lolita to glorify Humbert, but show how Humbert could justify his monstrous actions to himself, but that didn't make him any less of a monster.) Also, much of the time when Frank is talking about specific topics, the dialogue feels too much like a speech and not natural enough. It feels like Bobcat Goldthwait is preaching to the audience. On the other hand, just about everything else works. Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr have really good chemistry together and they make even some of the more preachy parts of the movie seem more natural. Also, Goldthwait, when he avoids writing sermons, is very funny. The action does get over-the-top in the end, but in a way that works, at least in my opinion. I'm sure not everyone will agree with me here. Although there is this weird dichotomy where the protagonists are arguing for civility by being barbaric, and this and the high level of gore might turn off more people that would otherwise enjoy the movie.

I don't know if Bobcat Goldthwait will ever direct a truly mainstream movie, but as long as he keeps making movies as good as God Bless America, I'll be happy to watch them.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary with the director, Bobcat Goldthwait, and the two leads, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. It's a fun and informative track and the trio have good chemistry together. Killing with Kindness is a behind-the-scenes / making of featurette that runs nearly 30 minutes long. There are five minutes of deleted / extended scenes, much of which we see when Frank is flipping through the channels, as well as two and a half minutes of outtakes. Up next is an interview featurette with Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. Again, it's a long featurette running nearly 30 minutes, so it is substantial. On the other hand, HDNet: A Look at... is five minutes of mostly promotional fluff. Finally, there's a music video. That's an excellent selection, especially for a limited release.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but it costs $20 on, which is $5 more than the DVD. That's a little higher than I would like to pay for a Blu-ray without exclusive extras, but it is not a deal-breaker.

The Verdict

God Bless America is is little too preachy, is a little too scattered with its targets, but overall is a very fun black comedy. Granted, the film won't be for everyone, but fans of the genre will want to buy the DVD or the Blu-ray. I'm torn on which one is the better deal.

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