“God Bless America,” the latest from comedian turned button-pushing filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait (“Sleeping Dogs Lie,” “World’s Greatest Dad”) is one angry movie. Goldthwait (who also penned the screenplay) takes aim at America’s narcissistic culture by centering his story on Frank (Joel Murray), a divorced, recently fired and possibly terminally ill man, who takes it upon himself to rid America of dumb, bigoted people by buying a gun and hunting said people down with the help of high-school student Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares his rage.
Given that this comes from the mind of Goldthwait however (he played Zed in a string of “Police Academy” films back in the eighties and is best known for his high-pitched comedy act), “God Bless America” is also hilarious. You might be shocked to see how far Goldthwait and his game cast takes it, but you’ll also be hard pressed not laugh most of the way.
Indiewire sat down with both Goldthwait and Murray to talk about the sure to be divisive dark comedy and their aversion to reality TV. [“God Bless America” hits select theaters today.]
Bob, you have a lot of bones to pick in “God Bless America.” You take aim not only at reality television, but Diablo Cody, spoiled kids… What inspired all of this?
Goldthwait: It’s a combination. Some of it is how I really feel and see the world. Some of it is how my wife and daughter and see the world. The Diablo Cody diatribe is about my daughter, who’s a really funny kid. Whenever she says something funny, they go, “You’re like Juno.” And she says, “Dad, I want to stab them right in the fucking throat.” So that was the inspiration for that.
But I actually think I’m upset at a lot more things, but not so broad. “American Idol,” I kind of picked that because I knew, even if it got cancelled, it’s been burned into our psyche. I have to say I used to really laugh at the beginning of the process of “American Idol,” and then after a while, I sort of started feeling crappy about it. At one point I was like, no man I’m out. That’s what the movie’s about. It’s about not specific things, but what is our appetite for all these distractions and why?
I want to sit in on a dinner table conversation at your house.
Goldthwait: This stuff comes up all the time. I can’t explain it. The jokes my wife cracks are way more shocking that anything I’ve ever heard. She doesn’t fuck around. “You know what else rips my cock off” — that’s the kind of thing she would say she would say in front of children. She doesn’t really give a rat’s ass [laughs].
Murray: She comes up with nicknames for everybody that are brutal.
Goldthwait: Dick in my ass, things like that.
Wow, match made in heaven.
Goldthwait: Yeah it was. It was definitely two star belly sneetches finding each other [laughs].
What inspired the violent streak then? You could have took aim at your targets in a totally different way.
Goldthwait: If you look at the Tea Party movement, one of the signs said something like, “We came unnarmed this time.” The violence in this movie is so over the top, but it’s kind of going, I’ll show you crazy. I could have made a doc on how as a society we’ve become less tolerant, and that we’re a really nasty culture. But it would have been really boring and whiny. I thought to do a satire that was extremely violent would reach more people.
Given your personal connection to the material and your acting chops why did you hire on Joel to voice a lot of your own concerns, rather than play the part yourself?
Goldthwait: I think Joel is a better actor that me. I also really want to make movies, and I take being behind the camera really seriously. I don’t want to be distracted by having to act. The more movies I make, I gain new respect for actors. I really think it’s hard.
Murray: I was just really excited to play a lead role. I usually get five lines or under. I’ve never been in anything where I’m in pretty much every scene, so that was a really cool opportunity for me. I really loved “World’s Greatest Dad,” and wanted to be in Bob’s next movie. And it turns out I am [laughs]. It’s a weird case of positive envisioning happening real fast.
What about the content of the script, Joel? Lead role sure, but “God Bless America” is pretty subversive, edgy material. Did that scare you?
Murray: Well I agree with a lot of it, almost everything. I didn’t have that much trouble with the content. Shotgun and the baby bit…well, I understand that’s an attention getter early in the film. I know I wasn’t really going to shoot a baby, and the baby wasn’t even going to be in the room when the shot went off.
Goldthwait: I could barely get it to cry. I had to growl at it. We would take its food away and it would just sit there. We would have its parents going away, nothing. So finally I got down on all fours and it started crying. I was saying that someday this kid going to be nine or ten and “Police Academy”‘s going to come on and the kid’s going to scream and run out the door.
Joel, you have kids of your own. Do they watch the shows that Bob lampoons?
Murray: The horrible shows?
Murray: Yeah. My kids will be watching “MTV Cribs,” and I’ll tell them to get out there and mow the lawn. I try to keep my younger ones away from a lot of the crap shows, and I try to keep my wife away from a lot of the reality shows about the housewives and stuff like that. But as an actor I have a definite problem with a lot of the reality TV. I think it’s a cost cutting scam from these producers to have content where they don’t have to pay actors.
Goldthwait: And as much as I like to think I’ve taken the high road (because I do turn off most reality TV), I do slip once in a while [laughs]. I’d love to tell you that I don’t have the finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” DVR’d, but I do because I want Sharon Needles to win. I think he’s so rad.
Goldthwait: You did? Godammit, we could have invited him to the premiere! Are you fucking kidding me?
Nope, press day was yesterday before the finale aired that night.
Goldthwait: I could have met Sharon Needles, but I was at the Flaming Saddles on the bar dancing. I said to Joel, “I’m getting up on that bar.”
Murray: An old friend of mine owns that so we had to check it out. Couldn’t keep Bob of the bar.
Did it take any drinks to get you up there?
Goldthwait: Oh no, I was just up there.
[Laughs] Back to the reality shows, I want to know rights wise, how did you pull this off? They all bear an uncanny resemblance.
Goldthwait: Yeah, I kind of pushed it. But I guess you can get away with it the way SNL does with their parodies. Some of the stuff we really did push. Also, we pushed it a lot with just stealing shots in Times Square with no permits and just shooting it.
Murray: Driving around Manhattan…
Goldthwait: In a car with fake license plates and an underage girl and handguns [laughs]. I told them, “If they pull you over just say in character since I’m filming you from the other car.”
Tara Lynne Barr is fantastic and frightening as hell as our modern day Bonnie. She was born in 1993 which makes her…
Goldthwait: She just turned 18.
Was it tough getting her parents’ consent to star in this film?
Goldthwait: Well her parents agree with the message of the movie. I think that’s where a lot of her opinions were formed. When she came in, the difference between her and the other kids who had been auditioning, was that she wasn’t playing it tragic, or playing it like a Lolita. She just played it with this wholesome craziness. There’s a movie that Liza Minelli starred in called “The Sterile Cuckoo,” in which she’s 20. That was one of the things I wrote about when I wrote her role. That was one of the few things I asked Tara to do, as far as character was involved, to have her watch that movie.
Joel, how did you rationalize the way Frank goes about clearing his head?
Murray: I was saying earlier that I had a buddy who shot himself in the mouth a while back. So that was a really dark place to go. In my mind, I thought when he kills, the headaches go away. He feels so crappy in the beginning of the movie, that every time he shoots somebody he feels better for a minute. That was a thing I thought about while I was doing it.
Mainly after being so low in the shooting and going to that dark place of near suicide, which you bring home with you, as soon as we started shooting people, then it was just fun time.
Goldthwait: Yeah it was a drag. I always like having fun. It was like, Joel’s suicidal again today; let’s all be quiet, he’s in a dark place.
About the reception, there hasn’t been a wealth of backlash since it premiered at TIFF last year. Are you ready for some now that it’s opening theatrically?
Goldthwait; Well there’s some, and I expect it. You know, there’s so many people that make their living just bashing and writing horrible things about anyone they think is liberal. I’ve had some of that happen already, but it’s funny because it doesn’t really matter what those guys say. They’re really just sour grapes and bananas.