"A film with much promise, but it's over-emphasised hostility towards life simply comes across as too patronising..."
Coincidence or not, there is something quite ironic about God Bless America hitting our cinema screens on July 4 - as Bobcat Goldthwait's twisted, satirical comedy takes a cold, hard look at contemporary American culture, coming to some rather pessimistic and destructive conclusions.
Joel Murray plays Frank, an unloved individualist who is at his wit’s end in regards to society, desperately unable to comprehend reality television shows and people who, quite simply, are not very nice. When he is unfairly sacked at work he decides enough is enough, and begins to act upon his instincts, living out his sadistic fantasies by murdering a local reality TV star.
Frank then decides it's time to kill himself, but he is persuaded otherwise by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a twisted teenager with a similarly uncompromising rage towards society, who happened to witness Frank's brutal attack. Having convinced Frank to begin a killing spree with her as his sidekick, the pair then, in true Bonnie and Clyde fashion, decide to take out their angst on the American public and violently murder those they consider repellent and worthless.
Goldthwait has presented a picture that certainly works as a fair social study, tapping into the dominance of social networking in society, and the nonsensicality of reality TV shows and talent contests, etc. However, there is presenting your opinions, and there is shoving them down people’s throats, which God Bless America is certainly guilty of. Despite agreeing with Frank about the majority of his gripes with the modern world, it's too condescending, maintaining that enjoying such a brand of entertainment is a sin, almost making you feel guilty for doing so as a result. Frank's arguments just seem too much like preaching, rich in bitterness.
The biggest issue with God Bless America, however, is how it cheapens itself with too many contradictions. Despite presenting a very strong case, it often comes across as being as falsely unconventional as the very films it slates. Take Juno for instance: although I completely agree with everything Frank and Roxy have to say about it, God Bless America is also a victim of manufactured quirkiness, like when Roxy turns the happy face on her pancakes to a sad one. This is right out of the Juno school of film making. Not to mention the animated interlude halfway through. Roxy is as annoying about her love for Alice Cooper as Ellen Page in Juno is about Sonic Youth - it can go either way when it's forceful and overly opinionated regardless of the argument you are fighting for. Also, Goldthwait should really be careful, as by completely disregarding 'escapist' television shows and films, he is potentially alienating his very own audience.
Ironically, the film is overstated in much the same way as the TV shows it's mimicking. Although perhaps I am missing something and Goldthwait is deliberately being immoderate to further enhance the point he is trying to make about such shows. Maybe it's overlapping in irony and I just don't get it. Anyway, having said all of this, both the Juno and Glee rants are hilariously precise, and the use of real pop culture references as well as the made up parodies (which are very observational and precise) they have invented is smart as it adds a sense of realism to proceedings.
What does allow God Bless America off the hook in some instances is how surreal and gory it becomes, which despite devaluing earlier arguments, reminds us all that this is simply a film, taking the heat off the heavier themes explored. Everything is exaggerated for comic effect, which works well as by making those around Frank so repulsive, it almost justifies his demented actions. People are so horrendous it becomes fun to watch them die - even if they are harmless. Like in Inglorious Basterds for example, except these people aren't Nazis.
As for the performances, Murray is very good as Frank, seeming genuinely vengeful at society, arguing his case with real conviction. He does feel almost like a ventriloquist dummy for Goldthwait though, as these rants feel far too clever and earnest to not have some truth behind them. As for Barr, who struggles to hold her own within the film - it's rather interesting to learn that she comes from a background that her character detests in the film, starring in TV programmes such as Drake and Josh and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Pot, kettle, etc. The pair do complement each other well however, and it's strangely endearing when he teaches her how to shoot a gun. The only other character that deserves a mention is the wonderfully named, "Tampon Throwing Tuff Gurl". Of course.
God Bless America is a film with much promise, but its over-emphasised hostility towards life simply comes across as too patronising. However the film is also jovial and light-hearted in parts, and although thought-provoking, asking questions of its audience - it does become a full on thriller caper, sensationalist to say the least. I suppose the only advice I can offer is not to take this film too seriously, although that is hard to do as it's not particularly easy to tell how seriously it takes itself.