I spend a lot of my time shaking my head at society. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t seem to unearth some new strand of triviality and/or obnoxiousness, from the recent news that someone’s named their baby “Hashtag” to the fact that 50 Shades of Grey not only exists but is horribly popular. I could go on and on; I could fill books with rants, maybe even make a movie.
That looks to be what Bobcat Goldthwait has done with God Bless America, a black comedy from 2011. In it, the writer and director delivers his own tirades through the mouths of his two twisted protagonists. His script doesn’t let a moment go by without posing some sort of razor-sharp commentary, most of which is quite amenable to those who find ourselves on the outside looking in.
The film introduces Frank (Joel Murray), an insurance salesman whose life has pretty much sucked for the last few years. He lives in a tin-can apartment with loud neighbours and fantasizes about shooting them, even taking a shotgun to their newborn. In Frank’s emergent conceptions of justice, see, rudeness is the ultimate sin.
Things boil over when Frank loses his job and learns that he has a brain tumour. Sickened by an incessant rash of cultural nonsense, he decides that he’s going to murder a spoiled reality show teenager (Maddie Hasson) and then turn the gun on himself to check out of the vile world once and for all. But when another teenage girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) enters his life, his mission becomes clear.
In effect, Frank’s main concern with the world is its lack of niceness. He sees a lack of civility in this thing called civilization and he’s not wrong. But where he crosses the moral line is when he crowns himself executioner of the not-so-nice guys, when he believes it is his duty to slaughter the maddening jerks who talk on their phones in movie theatres and audaciously double-park. Frank’s solution to society’s many misfortunes is a bullet. Now where have I heard that before?
There are some interesting threads here, like how Roxy is taken with Frank’s “cause” and jumps on board keenly. She seems to have a longer list of wrongs than he does, in fact, and extends the targets of their spree to those who use certain words and perform high-fives. Upon her arrival, Frank’s moral justification becomes even weaker than the simple popping-off of an irritating youth.
God Bless America targets a series of bothers and hopes to be a purgative if not satirical flick. It aims for the guilty pleasure, hoping we’ll feel a little better seeing the bratty girl from “My Super Sweet 16” get her ass handed to her with a few bullets left in the chamber for her enabling parents. Your mileage may vary, but my mind kept hazarding back to the fact that Frank might well be his own best target.
There is some hard-to-miss irony, like when the hipper-than-thou Roxy knocks Diablo Cody characters while living up to a Diablo Cody character. And a later disclosure about her character should, by all accounts, place her on the same level as some of the entitled brats the duo executed. Nothing happens, of course, because Frank and Roxy place themselves above the fray – even as they lament about the “ridicule of the weak.”
God Bless America is a tricky one. On one hand, its pop culture swipes are pretty on-point. On the other hand, it’s hard to take a film’s message seriously (and it’s hard to laugh at its jokes) when it blasts a baby to bits within its first few minutes and proceeds to zealously rant about the need for civility for its duration. So long as movies are, in the words of Pauline Kael, “the sullen art of displaced persons,” maybe that’s the point.