God Bless America
Written and Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, and Regan Burns
Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Frank (Joel Murray) is a divorced insurance salesman who lives alone in a house with walls so thin he can hear the wailing of his next door neighbor’s baby day and night. His own daughter (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) wants nothing to do with him and is being increasingly spoiled by her ineffectual mother (Melinda Page Hamilton). Suffering from insomnia and migraines Frank does nothing with his life but sit in front of his television every night and subject himself to endless hours of horrid commercials, mind-numbing reality shows where pampered rich teenage girls throw profane-laden tantrums when they don’t get the car they want for their birthday, and the insane ramblings of right-wing talk show hosts (Regan Burns and Frank Conniff) who sees nothing but hatred and fear in everything and anything. One day his entire life falls apart: a misunderstood act of affection at work leads to the loss of his job, and then his doctor informs him – in between taking ill-timed calls on his cell – that the reason he’s getting migraines is because he has an inoperable brain tumor.
With nothing left to lose Frank decides that his last action before dying is to murder Chloe (Maddie Hasson), the worst of the spoiled reality show teens, but he’s caught in the act by too-mature-for-her-age high school student Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Although Frank intends to kill himself now that his task is done Roxy convinces him to live on so he can turn his hatred of the moral and cultural cesspool America has become into a full-blown mission of righteous vigilante justice, and of course she wants to get in on the action. Thus our deranged duo take their act on the road, traveling the countryside and bringing hot lead and cold fury to a wide variety of cultural criminals – religious bigots, Tea Party protesters, people who talk and text in movie theaters, and douchebags who park their cars in two spaces on purpose to name but a few. With the body count rising and no end of human waste in sight Frank and Roxy set their sights on Hollywood and the culmination of their violent mission.
I grew up loving the offbeat comedic stylings of Bobcat Goldthwait, but usually it was because I had seen him in some shitty 1980’s studio comedy like Hot to Trot or the Police Academy sequels (he had the good sense to bail out after Citizens on Patrol though). Once the decade was out and Goldthwait’s bug-eyed crazy man act was wearing thin he took a different tact and turned to directing pitch black comedies with subject matter that modern audiences wouldn’t usually find amusing, such as death, alcoholism, and bestiality. The results were mixed but his directorial debut Shakes the Clown is also his finest hour as an actor and his brilliant 2009 comedy World’s Greatest Dad featured the forever maligned Robin Williams in one of the best performances of his career. Clearly Goldthwait was passionate about filmmaking and wasn’t afraid to travel the darkest roads in search of the most cutting humor.
With his latest film God Bless America (which he also wrote, as he has done on all his works as a director) he attempts to hold a mirror up to the societal trash heap America has allowed itself to devolve into over the decades, and it’s sad to say that he fails miserably.
God Bless America is social satire at its most toothless and unoriginal, a movie that desires to have a take-no-prisoners approach in its humor but for the most part is shockingly unfunny. And very offensive, but not for the reasons you may think. The characters and story are unappealing and positively bursting with fetid hypocrisy and the targets for their impotent anger are so safe and dated that they fail to generate even a modicum of shock value. Neither Frank or Roxy have anything resembling a single interesting character trait that would make you want to sympathize with their soul-rotting plight, which is exactly what Goldthwait expects us to do. Since every other character in the movie is presented as a horrible and inexcusable waste of human skin Frank and Roxy seem pure in comparison, but in the end our so-called heroes are nothing more than pathetic whiners who believe the best way to deal with their problems is to kill them.
It’s just not funny anymore to see people going off on killing sprees against others whose interests and actions instill them with illogical fury. There has been too much of that in recent years. Look at the murder of Dr. George Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder in 2009, or Seung-Hui Cho’s shooting spree at Virginia Tech University in 2007 that claimed 32 lives, or the Columbine High School massacre. Portraying the actions of a pair of spree killers as heroic and justified just because their victims are those who solely exist to be annoyances to those around them is a cheap and cowardly move on Goldthwait’s part but it might have made more of a positive impact on the story had Frank and Roxy been more interesting characters. A pair of unnecessary plot twists that hit around the same time in the third act add nothing to the story or our perceptions of our mass-murdering misfits.
At times the movie takes a shot at making valid commentary about our society’s media-saturated indifference to widespread acts of violence and how it feeds our collective bloodlust and obsessive desire to find a convenient scapegoat for the crimes. Yet Goldthwait strains credibility to the breaking point in his decision to have his portrayal of the media aid Frank and Roxy in avoiding recrimination or arrest by blaming all their murders on violent movies, tree-hugging liberals, feminists, and so on. Using that tactic once got a little laugh out of me, but when the writer-director made it a running joke it became an insult to the intelligence. During the course of their nationwide killing spree Frank and Roxy pick timely targets like Tea Party rallies and a gay-bashing protest held by a religious group based upon the Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church “God Hates Fags” cult. But having their mission conclude at the taping of an American Idol-like reality show is just idiotic and instantly dated, especially since Frank’s vitriol towards the show stems from the ironic celebrity gained by a contestant clearly inspired by notorious Idol also-ran William Hung. William Hung? That was back in 2004. The ending might have had an actual impact had it took place at a more timely target.
Both Murray – brother of Bill – and Barr do fine work in their parts despite being given little or nothing to really do, and stand-up comic Regan Burns and Frank Conniff (“TV’s Frank” from Mystery Science Theater 3000) make fine right-wing television jackanapes. The material they’re handed to work with is slight and folds under the closest scrutiny. None of the other cast members get any time to make an impression, but at least it’s fun to see Larry Miller show up, before he gets killed.
I was hoping to love the hell out of God Bless America but Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film falls completely apart under the weight of its own hypocrisy and slight ambitions. It’s not very funny either but it tries desperately from time to time. I just don’t find whiny, boring white people going on questionably justified rampages all that amusing. If you do then you might enjoy this movie, but then you wouldn’t be someone I’d want to know.