God Bless America

Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait

Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, and Melinda Page Hamilton

In the opening scene of God Bless America, the antihero dreams of going next door and shooting his incredibly obnoxious neighbors.  He shoots the father and then shoots the baby as blood splatters all over the mother.  As a viewer, at that point, I had to decide whether to follow my instinct and recoil from the sight or momentarily suspend my horror so that I could absorb the message of the film.  I chose the latter and settled in for a gripping nearly two hour indictment of American culture.

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (total blast from the past), God Bless America is a dark comedy about Frank (Joel Murray), a middle aged man at a crossroads in his life and in a rut personally and professionally.  He is divorced, and his ex-wife and her new boyfriend have moved away with his young daughter Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith). Ava is a spoiled brat who not only does not have time to speak with Frank, but doesn’t even want to visit him because his house is boring.  (The technology obsessed kid does not want to go outside rollerblading and to amusement parks and other healthy activities that her dad tries to expose her to).  Aside from his familial problems, Frank is fired from his job after he is accused of sexually harassing a receptionist.  Soon thereafter, he’s diagnosed with a tumor.  To say that Frank’s life is a disaster would be an understatement.

As Frank grapples with his looming demise, he mindlessly flips through his television inundated with America’s worst—grown women fighting on reality TV, religious cults protesting at funerals because the deceased person was a homosexual, right wing extremists bashing persons for not being patriotic enough, American Idol like contests that mock mentally challenged contestants, and infomercials for ringtones that sound like pig farts.  Frank is on the verge of committing suicide when he has an epiphany.  As he watches a show similar to MTV’s Sweet Sixteen where a teenage girl curses her parents out because they bought her a car that is not to her liking, Frank realizes that he should kill her instead.
Frank drives to the teenage girl’s high school, and stakes her out.  He ultimately walks up to the spoiled teenage reality star and kills her.  Roxy, an outcast at the high school, witnesses the murder and is thrilled. She follows him and asks to join him in a killing spree.  She doesn’t want Frank to just stop at killing one reality star—she wants him to kill all of the bad people who are dragging society down.  The two form an unlikely friendship and set out to take out America’s garbage.

God Bless America is relentless.  The film holds up a mirror to America and says take a good look at what you’ve become.  No stone is left unturned and everything from American Idol to TMZ to Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Sean Hannity to Bad Girls Club to VH1 to the Tea Party are under attack.  Anything that spreads hatred and cruelty and feeds to the lowest common denominator goes under the microscope.  The biggest attack is on American society itself—for dissolving into a technology-obsessed, pop culture ridden mess that has desensitized Americans to the point that there isn’t any human connection.   People are able to find entertainment in the suffering of others and/or jump on hate-filled bandwagons of racism, homophobia, etc.  Interestingly, Goldthwait uses brutal gun violence to attack American society’s tendency toward mean-spiritedness and gullible consumption of anything and everything that is fed to them. 

The two major players Murray and Barr do an outstanding job in this film.  Barr certainly provides comic relief as the smart-mouthed rebellious teen who says whatever comes to her mind.  Joel Murray (Bill Murray’s brother) is the heart of the film as he wrestles with his role as a vigilante and his own inner demons.  The two remind me of Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in The Professional, although Murray and Barr hint at a more adult connection.

Overall, God Bless America is something different. The film’s “in your face” brutality and spot on assessment of what is on television and in the media, will make you reflect on what you have saved on your DVR and what it all really means.  I would go for a hard lemonade with this one.