If ever you have found yourself sat in front of the television, disgusted by the ‘reality’ that you see before you, then the latest from writer director Bobcat Goldthwait may interest you. God Bless America is a bleak, violent and satirically funny diatribe against the collapsing state of western culture.
This dark comedy concerns mild-mannered Frank (Joel Murray) whose life is taken to a new low when he loses his job and discovers he has an inoperable brain tumor. Estranged from his wife and sickeningly spoilt daughter, Frank decides to take action against what he sees as the collapse of American society, embodied by the reality shows on television and the people he encounters everyday day.
The brutal yet clumsy killing of Chloe, a particularly nauseating star of a reality show, is both funny and shocking and sets in motion the film’s road trip charm. Joining Frank on the road is Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a disillusioned teenager who, after witnessing the assassination, persuades him that they must continue in their quest to rid society of its cruelest and stupidest members.
The film continues in this vein, with the killings becoming more comical but almost relatable. Any true cinema fans will appreciate one particular set piece that will encourage all to quiet down during a screening.
However, despite the satirical edge and witty dialogue between the two, the film removes any sense of jeopardy for them, with police seemingly indisposed to chase them down and stop their killing spree. Furthermore, Roxy’s long list of grievances against society become far too broad, turning her quest into one of intolerance in place of Frank’s more decent motivation of turning the world into a kinder place.
Most important of all is that the film appears almost smug in its tirades against reality shows, politics and whatever else Bobcat Goldthwait has a grievance with. At times, the film becomes merely a platform for the director to spew his criticisms onto the world, removing the dark comedic quality that occasionally appears. These lazy shots at the evils of popular culture are points well known, and often made. This unfortunately means that the film is not well humored enough, or shocking enough for that matter, to sustain the running time, playing out only as a series of links from one satirical comment to the next.
This is not to say that the film is a failed endeavor. The dialogue is hilarious at times, and the relationship that builds between Frank and Roxy is warm and almost touching. However, it lacks the hilarity of a film like Serial Mom, which is similar in tone but instead sustains its sense of humor throughout.
Whilst it is perhaps not as shocking or hilarious as it seems to think it is, God Bless America is nonetheless a fun romp for those who, like Frank, are fed up with the mediated and unkind world that some would argue we inhabit. Joel Murray’s performance holds up throughout, painting a man who has not so much jumped off the edge, but has been steadily pushed by the ills of society around him, a feeling that many may well identity with.