God Bless America is, at it’s core, a rage-fantasy film. It’s a twisted take on the Bonnie and Clyde archetype finding a middle-aged curmudgeon and his female teenage sidekick on a killing spree to rid the world of the scum of American society. Also, it’s hilarious.
Frank (Joel Murray) has had just about enough of American society which he believes has gone right down the crapper. Like Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, Frank belives American culture has regressed to the point where gossip has replaced actual conversation and mockery is the new form of entertainment. Initially, it’s hard to argue with him as the film opens with Frank flipping through late night TV only to stumble across a female reality show, where one woman throws her bloody tampon at another, and a Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck type character who professes his only weaknesses are loving his mother and his country too much.
After he’s fired from his job for innocently flirting with a co-worker and diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, he’s finally at the edge. In his estranged, young daughter, who refuses to stay at his house because “there’s nothing to do there,” he sees the consequences of society’s downfall and decides to take matters into his own hands. He comes across a high school girl who’s on the same wavelength and they team up to rid the country of, who they believe to be, the degenerates of society.
While it’s easy to write off the film as nothing more than a hate rant from director Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad) it has much more layers than it initially seems. One may agree with their view of America and it’s insistence on mocking the untalented singers on American Superstarz (a not-so-thinly-veiled ripoff of American Idol) but it’s another to agree with Frank and Roxy’s solution — murder. It’s not even the question of whether these people deserve to die or not, the real question becomes why is Frank, and to a lesser degree Roxy, the one who gets to decide?
Disguised as a black comedy, it has serious undercurrents that slowly come to the surface as the film wears on. Like Goldthwait’s previous feature World’s Greatest Dad it plays extremely messed up situations for laughs but Goldthwait doesn’t brush off the seriousness of those situations. His solid script is also anchored incredibly by Joel Murray who plays Frank as the world’s biggest loser. One can’t help but feel sorry for him when the film opens as he’s fired, diagnosed with a brain tumor and has a daughter who’s supremely spoiled and refuses to spend time with him. But as the film progresses, his true nature is continuously called into question.
The first red flag is when he agrees to allow Roxy, still in high school, to tag along. Newcomer Tara Lynne Barr carries the film just as much as Murray and has a disturbing excitement in their killing, one which Frank doesn’t always share. It honestly questions the trajectory of American society, but it’s also an acute character piece studying Frank’s, and Roxy’s, actions and morals.
It’s sure to be a dividing film due to Goldthwait’s brand of black comedy that makes the Coen Brothers look like Walt Disney but Goldthwait isn’t justifying Frank’s actions as much as he’s continually questioning them. Even Bonnie & Clyde were, and are still, seen by many as celebrated martyrs. Whether or not that’s how one views Frank and Roxy is not Goldthwait’s intentions. It’s not a film that preaches morals and the death of American culture, rather it poses questions about where it is and how to deal with it. Is Frank just an sad man from another era or is he saying something worthwile? That’s for the audience to decide.
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