No not the song… the movie, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Bobcat directed one of the most uncomfortable movies ever when he made World’s Greatest Dad. It’s a hard movie to sit through but it is really good. I didn’t think that it’d be possible for Bobcat to really push past that and while he’s attempted it with God Bless America it’s far less uncomfortable but far more brutal.
God Bless America is the story of a man with an inoperable brain tumor who loses his job and decides to kill a spoiled brat on a reality TV show who complains when her parents get her the wrong car for her birthday. What follows is a commentary on the media at large and how as a society we are getting nastier and uglier and then applauding those of us who can be the most disgusting.
While this film’s rallying cry is “Death to people who act like ass holes,” it still pushes the edge as much as possible for the sake of doing it. The opening sequence alone pushes the protagonist, Frank (Joel Murray) from relatabe to psychotic. I won’t spoil it because it is a huge laugh but it is also quite a shock for the sake of being shocking.
There’s a definite mixed message and there’s a voice of chaos that comes in the form of a young social outcast named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who tags along with Frank on a killing spree across the beautiful US of A. There’s chatter about who they think deserves to die and why, montages of killing sprees but the film never really gets going. It meanders around in places not sure how to get to it’s conclusion in a clean way. The pacing is muddy and while these two anti-heroes have definite chemistry the one time they argue it feels forced and unnatural. I do applaud the film for having the balls to not have the leading man and woman not hook up (an issue I had with the vigilante film Super).
I might be harping on the film a little too much but it feels like a project lost in time. This would have been a brilliant film a few years ago. There are references to twitter and modern social networking but many of the films ideas about America are based on reality TV from the early 2000s. One of the running gags is an American Idol like show that features a mentally handicapped man who can barely sing. Clearly a send up of William Hung from the 3rd season of American Idol in 2004. The girl that Frank starts his killing spree with is based on a girl who was on My Super Sweet 16, a show that’s been off the air for 4 years.
Some of the ideas are more modern like the Westboro Baptist Church protesting funerals and fox news commentators being generally unlikable but really the film feels out of date. No commentary on Jersey Shore type reality shows or The Housewives of Wherever. Most of these jokes have been done before in films that have felt dated for years. Seeing a Simon Cowell like character get what’s coming to him doesn’t really give me any kind of thrill, especially since I saw the horrible film Scary Movie 3 do it with the actual Simon Cowell. Yes the tone is different, drastically so, but it goes to show you that God Bless America is out of touch, and maybe it’s writer/director Bobcat Goldtwaite is too.
I can still accept the film even though it’s out of touch with current media if it’s writer actually was. Put into that context this could be representative of when they switched off the world and now they’re finally getting to talk about it. It encapsulates when Bobcat had enough of how ugly TV had become. The film rises above those complaints with a great set of co-stars, especially Tara Lynne Barr. Barr’s character Roxy is disenfranchised youth who’s ready to wreak havoc on America. She’s confused and angry, taking joy in each murder she and Frank perform. This is the relationship of Leon: The Professional gone completely wrong and without any of the awkwardly forced sexual tones. She’s a joy to watch on screen.
The lead Joel Murray plays, Frank is the one character I take issue with, especially in the last act. Frank is sent on his murdering ways for a reason and there comes a point when none of that seems to matter any more. He just keeps going in spite of himself and anything he’s learned. There’s a point of no return with Frank where I stopped caring about him and what he was doing and then I realized that I might actually dislike him. That’s not a bad thing as he is a murdering psychopath with deep seeded issues who judges people one way but can’t seem to dole out the same justice on those who are close to him. He’s a bit of a hypocrite at times and hard to relate to. Joel plays the part just fine and is a very capable actor. He plays “sad sack” incredibly well but his motives can be called into question a bit too much to really root for him.
Over all I give God Bless America a solid 4 out of 5. I know it sounds like I didn’t like the film but there simply isn’t any thing like it. Yes it’s date and yes the character of Frank may have his issues but he’s also human. This film made me laugh a lot from it’s opening til it’s closing. It has the big “I’m the prophet of the people” moment like Network but it never reaches that level of poignancy. If you like dark humor I’m sure it will make you laugh though.