Writer-Director Bobcat Goldthwait follows up his excellent and highly underrated ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ with another ironically titled dark comedy. While his previous effort teased going a conventional route before veering off in a very different direction, ‘God Bless America’ brings us right in with our protagonist fantasising about silencing a baby’s incessant wailing with a shotgun blast.
Frank (Joel Murray) is a man who sees everything wrong with the world he lives in. He lives alone in a small apartment next to some incredibly inconsiderate neighbours. He flicks through the TV stations seeing horrible reality show after horrible reality show. All his co-workers talk about are these shows, but by simply repeating cruel commentary taken from the radio. He is, in quick succession, fired from his job for a totally unfair yet completely plausible reason, told by his brat of a daughter that she never wants to see him again, and diagnosed with terminal brain cancer by a foul-mouthed doctor who clearly cares much more about answering his private phone calls than dealing with his patients.
He can take no more and decides to end it all by taking his own life. He changes his mind though upon seeing the most arrogant, spoiled bitch of a teenage girl imaginable on a ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen’ style show. By, ‘changes his mind’, I mean he decides to kill her first. Who wouldn’t?
This homicidal act (performed with hilarious ineptitude) is witnessed by a schoolmate of the girl called Roxy, who thinks it’s the greatest thing she’s ever seen. She hooks up with Frank and talks him out of suicide and into embarking on a road trip to kill all the horrible people in America together.
Frank is not a senseless madman though, he explains his dislike in an intelligent way that is hard to argue with, and is played as a sympathetic character throughout. This factor may leave some people a little uneasy finding themselves agreeing with the character’s thoughts wholeheartedly while opposing their actions. Film fans will find a lesson in cinema etiquette (and the biting subsequent news report on it) particularly familiar. Their bonding scenes are even rather touching in a manner similar to ‘Leon’, though it never avoids Frank’s awareness and discomfort at how inappropriate it is.
While this is all incredibly funny, there is some issue that it is setting up a situation it can’t resolve or take much further. It’s not quite punk attitude, offering anger with no solutions, or simply wish-fulfilment fantasy, it veers close, but it has bigger ideas. It doesn’t go on long enough for this to really become a problem though.
As well as the more obvious comedy, where ‘God Bless America’ really works, is in its sharp satire. All the fake TV segments prepared are at once ridiculous, clearly awful, yet familiar, there’s nothing that wouldn’t really be shown. (It centres on a hideous ‘X-Factor’ like manufactured pop show and it and its viewers treatment of a completely talentless contestant.) It’s also unafraid to name real-life hate figures of its central pair.
A bold, fearless and timely film, I imagine many people will hate it but it worked for me.