God Bless America (2011) / Comedy-Action
MPAA rated: R for pervasive strong, bloody violence, language and sexual references
Running time: 106 min.
Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Melina Page Hamilton, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Rich McDonald
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Screenplay: Bobcat Goldthwait
Review published March 8, 2013
Standup comedian Bobcat Goldthwait (That's How We Do It, World's Greatest Dad) writes and directs this wildly violent satire that targets popular television programs and the media in a bold and very bloody way. The film plays as if Kevin Smith got really angry one day and decided to make an anti-right wing vendetta film (Oh wait! He already did with Red State). As was the case with Howard Beale in Network, Bobcat's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore!
Joel Murray (The Artist, One Crazy Summer) stars as Frank, a divorced middle-aged man who loses his job in a bogus sexual harassment charge, finds out his spoiled young daughter (Smith, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles") doesn't want to visit him, and then gets diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, finally deciding to permanently dispatch the exceedingly bratty star (Hasson,"The Finder") of an obnoxious reality show (a la MTV's 'My Super Sweet 16') before taking his own life. His misdeed is witnessed by an amoral teenager, Roxy (Barr, Rebel City Rumble), who sees Frank as a hero for ridding the world of scum, and who convinces him to take her along to continue his vendetta against all of society's ills, a la Bonnie and Clyde meets Natural Born Killers.
God Bless America is a fairly rough satire, lacking a coherent message except to state that Goldthwait is pretty well upset at the garbage people watch day in and day out on television and wishes he could erase it all from the face of the Earth. Joel Murray provides the proxy for Bobcat, and it was a smart move for Goldthwait not to play the role himself, as he might have proven more a distraction in the part. He looks older than he is, worn down by life's miserable pageant, and, being the military veteran he is, he's disgusted by what's become of the great nation he once proudly defended with his life.
Although the scenes of wanton shoot-em-up are what will ultimately be remembered most upon having viewed God Bless America, it is in the moments where Frank just talks that Goldthwait hits his important points about the nasty, exploitative nature of modern-day entertainment. Watching a 'little princess' act in the most vile fashion in front of doting parents and tag-a-long friends has replaced the traditional, uplifting family sitcom, and the one which has the characters do the vilest, most outrageous things are the ones that pull in the highest ratings. Each progressive show just gets louder and more demeaning, exploiting everyone, including those with disabilities, who just want to get on television and make a spectacle of themselves. Even if they are laughed at by the masses, it won't matter, so long as they can keep their sorry mugs in front of that ever-watchful eye of television.
Calling the acting spotty might be somewhat charitable. The actors are fine, but they aren't always a natural fit for the dialogue. Roxy is dubbed "Juno" by Frank because she is envisioned somewhat as fast-talking and mature, though the actress that portrays her isn't nearly as comfortable emoting with the difficult dialogue as Ellen Page would have been in the Diablo Cody creation. Going further, the entire character of Roxy itself is ill-conceived and ends up more of a turn-off to the film's message, particularly in the artificially smart, sitcom-y way that Barr portrays her.
While there are definitely some choice nuggets of chord-striking satire, and its depiction of current popular television is spot-on in its inanity, ultimately, God Bless America falls just short of the mark by being more an example of the rancor, envelope-pushing mayhem and pornography of prurience that fills up much of today's entertainment. It's hard to sympathize with a man who puts a death sentence on people for being mean (one man is killed because he is taking up two parking spots), when all the while he is killing people, many in front of their family members, who've done little more to him than irritate him by being self centered or rude.
As a repudiation of the current trend for freak-show spotlights and vitriolic political pundit blowhards, this is something that most left-wing thinkers, and even many independents, will relate wholeheartedly to. It's hard not to feel a little relief, and a little guilt, at the schadenfreude of seeing all of these people who've made this country seem like a less ideal place to live get mowed down at the hands of someone who wants a return to decency again.
And yet, Goldthwait paints himself into a corner that he can't get out of, as we're more appalled at not only the murders committed by the film's antihero, but also that the Roxy character is so amoral as to be repugnant herself in her utter lack of any compassion whatsoever. I think, as disgusting a behavior as there is on reality television, that the behavior of a smiling 15-year-old girl with a pistol covered with the viscera of her victims is far more morally repugnant, and Goldthwait loses the upper hand by playing up the sensationalism beyond the story's capacity.
©2013 Vince Leo