God Bless America
2011, 105mins, 18
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast includes: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Rich McDonald, Maddie Hasson
UK Release Date: 4th July 2012
“God Bless America” is a troubling watch. A well intentioned and edgy (although that’s certainly not how the film-makers would like it described based on a few choice dialogue exchanges) satire, the film seeks to uncover the depravity of American pop culture through a cinematic murdering spree. Director Bobcat Goldthwait (2009’s superior “World’s Greatest Dad”) has a nice idea and a good central performance to work with here, but his targets feel broad, easy, unsophisticated and at times downright hypocritical. I mean it’s difficult to launch a scathing attack on screenwriter Diablo Cody when a subsequent sequence involves somebody being told they resemble “fuck pie”. Goldthwait is attempting to have his cake and eat it, leaving audiences with an acute sense of filmic indigestion in the process.
Frank (a sympathetic Joel Murray) is divorced, disgusted by his country’s current fascination with tatty popular culture and most notably terminally ill. Frank eventually snaps, dispatching of vulgar reality TV teen Chloe (Maddie Hasson) and gaining a like-minded accomplice in the form of her 16-year old classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Together Frank and Roxy decide to clean America up, killing manipulative political figures, toxic TV personalities and evil zealots as they flee the long arm of the law. The pair bond on the road, forming an unlikely friendship amidst the ferocious bloodshed and violence they inflict upon select fools.
The film opens with a baby being gorily blown to smithereens, and doesn’t let up in the graphic carnage department for the duration. So a round of applause for Joel Murray, who despite the nasty onscreen business being perpetrated, manages to keep Frank an engaging and not totally reprehensible protagonist. Murray captures the essence of a broken man effectively , remembering that amongst all of Goldthwait’s controversy baiting material it is imperative the lead remain halfway likable. It’s his contribution that buoys “God Bless America”, diluting the acidic sourness the picture insists on thrusting down viewers’ throats. The same cannot be said of Lynne Barr, who is as obnoxious and dispiriting a character as I’ve seen in a picture this year. Roxy’s unstable bloodlust, shrill acting and confused character arc pretty much renders her the female equivalent of Costa from “Project X”, an individual who she would no doubt eviscerate with utmost glee. There’s just no reason to empathise or care about Roxy’s own private need for societal retribution, the only redeeming feature of the performance being moderate chemistry with Murray.
The screenplay is crammed with potential, but Goldthwait’s tools feel blunt. Pops at the Kardashians, disruptive film goers and bratty Malibu princesses aren’t incisive or cutting, in fact they feel pretty obvious and cowardly. The soft underbelly of American culture is ripe for gutting, Goldthwait dreaming up a great narrative bag of tricks to do it, but sadly leaving his penchant for offbeat and distinctive social commentary behind. It’s also unclear how “meta” the director is attempting to be in spots, maybe his aforementioned Diablo Cody fumble and the gratuitous violence are meant to act as sly barbs in the direction of the audience (think Haneke’s “Funny Games”), but if so it’s not made particularly clear. I mean there’s nothing dumber than aggressively tasteless action for the sake of it, and for large chunks of the runtime that’s exactly what “God Bless America” is.
The film climaxes on a reality talent show (a very cheap set in an otherwise well produced movie), Murray delivering a powerful and sincere monologue that easily constitutes the film’s highlight. Gunfire is exchanged, morons are executed and martyrs are made, but as the credits roll none of it really seems to matter. “God Bless America” really doesn’t manage to say anything new of much worth, the fact it only achieve patchy success as a black comedy further damaging its reputation. From Goldthwait I’ve come to expect sharper observations and thicker laughs, neither of which this clumsy parody has in any real supply.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012