God Bless America
Bobcat Goldthwait says that his latest film, the much hyped God Bless America, is a violent piece about kindness, a statement that, while accurate, fails to reflect how its best moments are the most melancholy. Much excitement has centered on the film’s explosive trailer, which suggests a reactionary stream of wish-fulfillment set pieces. No doubt, most of these fans will be pleased to see that Goldthwait makes a bloody mess out of a whole lot of awful people, but why are so many of the upvoted Youtube comments calling for the death of say, Justin Bieber? What has cherubic little Justin Bieber ever done to hurt anyone?
Frank (Joel Murray, fantastic), the apparent protagonist of God Bless America, would probably wonder the same thing. Distant from his shrill, spoiled brat of a daughter, fired from his job for an act of kindness toward a fellow employee, and suffering from a brain tumor, Frank decides to off himself before realizing he can take one of pop culture’s most spiteful icons, a teenage girl named Chloe, with him. That Chloe, a shrieking banshee who abuses her parents for buying her the wrong luxury car for her birthday, seems to resemble a future version of Frank’s own daughter is never explicitly mentioned, but the parallels are uncanny. Witnessing the killing is teenager Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who convinces Frank that Chloe is only the first of many personalities that serve no purpose alive.
Like a mantra, Frank repeats that he only kills people that deserve to die. He claims to go after those who spread cruelty and hatred; Roxy is more political but also bothered by minute factors like high-fiving. She probably wouldn’t mind taking aim at the Biebs, but Frank’s moral compass keeps her in check. Still, what is morality to a pair of spree killers? The duo goes shopping and fashion themselves after icons Bonnie & Clyde. Roxy complains that they’re not being properly recognized for their exploits. Frank shows hints that he’s suppressing a latent attraction to Roxy. In the film’s dreamlike finale, Goldwaidth offers up an emotional resolution, but the catharsis the audience would expect is subverted.
God Bless America isn’t quite as revelatory as World’s Greatest Dad was, but it’s nonetheless a showcase for Goldwaidth, who is becoming one of the most daring and inventive comedy filmmakers around. Though the structure is a little staccato and Frank and Roxy’s dialogue consists largely of repetitive rants, there are too many striking moments – a mid-film dream sequence wherein Frank envisions himself as JFK, a bleak motel room murder, a gun salesman who speaks exclusively in famous movie lines – to say that the film is anything but one of the most genuinely exciting American films to be released this year. And to those disappointed that Justin Bieber doesn’t get his due, well, there are probably dumbed-down alternatives for the ADD generation.