God Bless America, 2011.
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith and Melinda Page Hamilton.
A terminally ill man embarks on a mission to rid society of its most repellent citizens, aided by a 16-year-old girl.
God Bless America is the latest dark comedy from comedian and director, Bobcat Goldthwait. If you’re not familiar with Goldthwait’s work, let me just say it is very, very dark; World’s Greatest Dad is about a failed author who uses his son’s suicide to get his work published and Sleeping Dogs Lie is an examination of relationships, honesty and bestiality. However, in comparison to his previous work, the comedy in God Bless America is pitch black – for instance, a baby gets murdered in the first minute of the film (but don’t worry, it’s only in a dream).
The film follows Frank (Joel Murray; Mad Men), an average American in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He is divorced, his daughter is a spoilt brat who hates him, and in the same day he loses his job and is informed he has terminal cancer. Angry with the modern American culture, he decides to use his remaining days to rid the world of these evils, such as the judges on American Stars (a thin veil for American Idol) and the spoilt rich girls on My Super Sweet 16th. On this journey of nihilistic self-discovery, he is joined by Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr; The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) a hyperactive teenager who shares his disdain for modern society. During their bloody road-trip across America, they brutally take down parodies of real-life figures, such as the Westborough Baptist Church, Fox News presenters Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh) and kids who talk during movies, but they also grow as people and become kindred spirits, culminating in an invasion of the finale for American Stars.
God Bless America is a fascinating film; an angry diatribe that frustrated with what is popular and successful (reality TV, fear-mongering news punditry, etc) in modern America, as well as the hypocrisy, nastiness and bad habits displayed by every character in the film who is not Frank and Roxy, and is thus intended to represent the average American personality. These targets are brutally deconstructed, torn apart and exposed, both by Goldthwait’s writing and Frank and Roxy’s revolvers. The character of Roxy is important here, as without her youthful perspective, the film would be in danger of suffering from a viewpoint limited to old fogeyish “back in my day”-isms.
This complaint about perspective could be extended to the whole film’s ideology. It is, after all, Goldthwait who is picking and choosing the targets of destruction in the film. Just because he dislikes that which is popular, why should the audience agree with him?
Well, partly because it is very well argued. The writing is great; it’s witty, articulate and dark as hell (which is good if that is the kind of humour you like). The film contains a number of rants and lectures delivered by the main characters that explain in detail Goldthwait’s complaints with modern culture. These monologues are well-written and engaging; although they sadly lose their power by the time we get to Frank’s final speech while standing on the stage of American Stars. Goldthwait’s viewpoint is also summarised in short, simple and brutally honest lines of dialogue, such as highlighting how people nowadays are just so mean.
To break up these monologues are scenes of violence and destruction brought down upon the film’s targets, from Teabaggers to paedophiles, and are intended to be a cathartic experience for the writer, characters and audience.
In many ways, the film is incredibly important, and I believe it will be watched and remembered for many years to come. It is a snapshot of modern society, and not a flattering one. In this way, it follows on from similarly important films like Sidney Lumet’s Network, Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down and Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. These three films are critical satires of what was wrong with society at the time they were made, and if you haven’t seen them, do so quickly! God Bless America is an amalgamation of the three, taking the speeches of Network, the bitter anger and frustration of Falling Down and similar targets as Idiocracy. Much like the main character of Falling Down, you are compelled towards and repulsed by Frank, a man who is so right about everything that you can’t disagree with him, and yet his actions are so wrong that we can’t agree with what he does.
Sadly, while God Bless America aspires to be culturally significant and insightful about our society, it does have some technical problems. For instance, while the film is funny, it is not particularly consistent. In many ways, it feels more like a sketch show then a film; the plot moves from sketch to sketch, from parodies of TV and news, to conversation, to scenes of violence being wrought down on those deemed unworthy, with little narrative propulsion to tie it all together. Also, it is hard to look past the many plot conveniences, such as how Roxy and Frank manage to meet and how the police are never able to catch them.
And ultimately, like Network, Falling Down and Idiocracy, the sad truth is that no matter how much it stamps its feet and tries to get its voice heard, the societal ills that God Bless America pinpoints, challenges and cathartically, hilariously blows apart, are unlikely to ever stop or go away...
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Graham is a writer and graduate. If you enjoyed this review, follow him @LukeWGraham and check out his blog here.