God Bless America, 2011.
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith and Melinda Page Hamilton.
Terminally ill Frank has reached the end of his tether. His neighbours are inconsiderate, the television is full of programs that glorify stupidity and ridicule the weak, and life barely seems worth living. He’s about to put his pistol in his mouth when he realises; why not just shoot the people who don’t deserve to live? What does he have to lose? Acquiring a teenage sidekick (Roxy) along the way, he begins a killing spree to rid America of the people who plague it.
God Bless America is one of very few films that I had heard of before EIFF. The trailer, full of murder based on the secret hatreds of everyone, seemed witty and controversial; on the popular ‘politically incorrect’ edge of comedy. Frank, played by Joel Murray, is excellent as the defeated man. His neighbours, far from being just mildly irritating, are exceptionally ignorant and have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. His work colleagues are mindless parrots of pop opinions, regurgitating gossip and politics without any original thought. In a beautiful moment, Frank launches a tirade against one of his colleagues, who then accuses him of ‘trying to suppress free speech’.
And so begins Bobcat Goldthwait’s rant against the lower echelons of pop culture, taking his anger out on the thinly veiled ‘American Superstarz’, on people who talk in cinemas, on right-wing scaremongers and many more. Frank obediently shoots them all, acquiring schoolgirl Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) along the way. While shooting one of her schoolfriends, she latches on to his ‘cool’, ‘awesome’ mission, showing great enthusiasm for planning the next victims. Such keenness for murder is somewhat morbid, especially in a character so young. We know a fair bit about Frank; his descent into frustration and his desire for justice before he dies, but we find out very little about Roxy’s motives for such a mission.
This lack of character development is a key failure of the film. What could be an excellent and cutting political satire, becomes a little aimless, with no progression in character for Frank or Roxy. Frank bemoans the need in the media to shock, and yet here we have gratuitous swearing, gore, and even a baby getting shot in one of the opening scenes. Even if this is a deliberate irony, Goldthwait’s point may have come across much clearer if he hadn’t contradicted himself so early on, and so absolutely.
There was a level of frustration in watching the film. I understood Goldthwait’s intention, but quickly became bored with the repetitive nature of the story, with no suspense or thrills supplied other than casual homicide. It’s a one-note film; Goldthwait gives reels and reels of people and qualities to be removed from society, with no suggestions as to the positive virtues to replace them. There was no battle for improvement, only for destruction. Some people may enjoy this extreme form of satire, but personally I found it lacked heart, and I came away from the film with nothing more than an even more solid conviction that hatred solves nothing.
If this was Goldthwait’s double bluff, then this is an excellently crafted film. However, I doubt this is the case. Full of punch but lacking in soul, God Bless America (like WWE or monster-truck racing) will certainly be an acquired taste.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★