Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait – he of whiny, high-pitched and inane Zed of Police Academy fame – does not hold back on trampling taboos in his aim to despair of the contemporary demise of social interaction and insatiable appetite for gossipy tripe. As in World’s Greatest Dad (2009), he makes you sit up and pay attention to societal ills and consumerism gone mad in his latest ugly social satire, God Bless America. Goldthwait takes a snapshot of one grim existence and turns up the focus on it to make you question your own standpoint on ensuing events. All this is done with a huge dollop of devilish fun, using of two fairly unknown leads to not draw attention from the values.
Frank (Mad Men’s Joel Murray) is driven to despair by noisy neighbours, ungrateful offspring and puerile workplace gossip. After his world comes crashing in and watching one reality TV show too many, he decides to rid society of its most repellent citizens with an unlikely accomplice in 16-year-old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr).
God Bless America is a combination of blatant shock tactics and poignant, pin-sharp verbal tirades from its lead that are rendered darkly amusing, or you would cry with despair at the apparent truth. Goldthwait is a social commentator of the times, not condoning the killing spree his characters venture down, but fuelling that deepest, darkest fantasy of doing away for good with frivolity and the vacuous elements of the population out there: Anyone who hasn’t courted that idea and let their imagination run wild at some point is fibbing, especially regular users of public transport. What Frank does is act it out the subconscious on camera for us. However, the predicted aftermath in most cases is it all feels rather sad and an anti-climax, especially heightened by our ‘supporting’ two damaged characters at the fore – one mentally ill and the other socially ostracised. In this sense, Goldthwait keeps a subliminal grip on reality.
Without establishing empathy for the Bonnie and Clyde characters at the start of each introduction, the film would fall flat at the first hurdle. Murray paints an emotional rollercoaster picture of a man in spiralling trouble who is also simultaneously, ironically respected for some of his albeit warped stance. Opposite him come the biting retorts from Barr as rebel outcast Roxy who makes an intriguing mark in this film. Goldthwait never lets either character fall into the ridiculous, trying to keep the antics of both grounded in reason. Their moments of light reflection before and after a kill strike you as ‘normal’ behaviour from studies into psychopaths who can’t see anything wrong with their actions. These wordy moments also serve to set up a lot of the humour in the film.
That said too many monologues of raw reasoning mean that by the time we should be rallying behind our executioners for the tense American Idol stand off, we don’t really care enough for either party’s longevity. It seems Frank’s mission fizzles by this stage, rather than becomes a morally questionable crescendo for a nation (and us) to witness. Still, it’s a clever indictment of our own selected viewing of such a film, which feels ironically uncomfortable at the same time.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie