2.5 Stars out of 4
Here’s a movie that’s really upset. Its title, to say the least, is an irony. Caustic and unforgiving, God Bless America is an ordeal of a movie that reaches out to American popular culture only to grab it by the neck. I imagine this film premiering back in the New Hollywood period of the late 1960s, where taboos were – sometimes literally – blown to hell. With God Bless America, Bonnie and Clyde‘s cynicism has been reinvigorated and its explosive ending completely preserved.
Cynicism in films fly best when the protagonist is an outsider, isolated from the flow of society. Also, he better be sick of everything and the kitchen sink. With Frank (Joel Murray), add a checkmark. He’s an underachieving and divorced insurer, who spends his banal days in the cubicle and nights prosaically with his couch and television. After a spectacular opening shot, we learn Frank is annoyed by his neighbours. He has delusions, the type that involve an infant, a gun, and lots of blood.
This sense of mean-spiritedness is channeled by the script and direction of Bobcat Goldthwait, who does a reasonable job schizophrenically jumping from one tone to the next, while managing to hold a sardonic smirk. While Goldthwait’s discontent with America is overly candid, at least it has a sense of humor about itself. Its hostile nods to Jersey Shore, American Idol, and all other pandering modes of sensationalism are, of course, what the doctor ordered.
Frank soon gets the boot from his office. He’s now a maverick, alone in America and constantly at odds with the mass’s schadenfreude-like idea of entertainment. That is until he meets the teenaged Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), whose disdain for society compliments Frank’s. They go on a rampage, but this is more for the convenience of the plot. It seems the best excuse for Goldthwait to start a satirical ruckus and amp up the violence. The journey, in its own way, is never exactly believable.
But I’ll suspend my disbelief and ask myself the mother of all questions: is it funny? Kinda. While I agree with Goldthwait’s criticisms of our increasingly desensitized society (Canada can be out of taste too!), his satirical jabs aren’t carefully placed. His insight, gleefully sarcastic as it is, is thrown at us – both blade and grip – instead of employing screwy situations for the humor to spill out on top. The film, alas, is overwritten with all of Goldthwait’s disconcertions expressed through the verbosity of his dialogue.
Having said that, Murray and Barr have great chemistry, even if Barr’s shrill and mannered performance takes some getting used to. Their zany “father-daughter” relationship sparks our memory of Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz in the perverse comic book movie Kick-Ass. There’s even some edgy wit with how Roxy might be attracted by Frank’s…well, who knows. She wants Frank to call her beautiful, but he, ironically, won’t because that’s too politically incorrect. So Frank, the alleged outlaw, clearly has some inclinations towards mass society. It’s like how Clyde’s hunky rebelliousness was reduced by his sexual impotence in Bonnie and Clyde.
So the body count amounts. Chuckles are shared. What Goldthwait sought to say, he’s said it. What else but to end on carnage, Taxi Driver-style. Well, such fatalism doesn’t really serve the comedy but more the excuse for – what else? – more violence! Goldthwait lets the bullets fly and we watch as America – god bless it! – goes down in flames. The satire has not simply run its lap, but maybe a dozen.
God Bless America is a movie for those who turn their head from MTV and scoff at the likes of cookie-cutter friday-night movies. I’m one of them. So I laughed. The film would’ve been something more if Goldthwait had thought this journey through and produced more of, well, just that. Instead, God Bless America is an overly exuberant rampage through the pits of American society. Despite the reprehensibleness of Frank and Roxy, we love them. Not for their actions, but their ideas. God bless ‘em.