How many times have you come across a car in a parking lot taking up multiple spaces and thought to yourself, “How does this individual sleep at night?” Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a rash reaction, but it’s an annoyance that still boggles the mind. For everyone who has made that response, maybe thought even worse and has had enough with the worst cultural aspects the world has to offer, Bobcat Goldthwait’s black comedy God Bless America hopes to give you the cathartic release you can only dream about. Any similar reenactment outside of a dream state would be illegal.
Like the film’s trailer accurately lays out for us, Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) has had it a little rough recently. His young daughter doesn’t want to see him, he’s been fired from his job and he’s found out about a severe brain tumor. Most of all, though, he can no longer stand the worst of American culture: fear mongering broadcast journalism, vapid reality television and a general lack of basic human decency, just to name a few. Instead of ending his life, he begrudgingly enlists the help of teenage Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) for a country wide killing spree, mowing down those allegedly deserving of death.
Goldthwait is no stranger to dark comedy. In fact, he’s quite amazing at it. For example, his 2009 feature World’s Greatest Dad not only features a fantastic performance from the late Robin Williams, but also humor that is gleefully subversive with plenty of heart woven into the material that makes the darkness simultaneously more accessible and more impactful. One could have only expected and hoped for the very same balancing act with God Bless America, but its unfortunate self-defeating results from the same one-note banality that sends all comedies to their grave.
Though meaning to toe the line of controversy, God Bless America’s premise is intentionally simple – the idea of a Bonnie & Clyde perversion involving a middle-aged man and a teenage girl would admittedly turn some heads. Beyond this detail and some fun excursions of giddy violence, this screenplay is completely bereft of ideas. The narrative simply floats from one senseless murder to the next, and what we’re left with in between are scenes of lifeless conversing between Frank and Roxy. The character development in these scenes are as necessary as insipid mass killing will allow, and they’re plagued by the same self-righteous nonsense that fuels this film from the opening scene.
What is perhaps most disappointing about God Bless America is the irony of its philosophical stance. Though the material openly acknowledges the futility in taking such rash actions against all that’s deemed personally contemptible, it’s not exactly siding against everything that Frank and Roxy are preaching. And though that’s perfectly fine, it loses its luster very quickly. The script may think it’s continuously wearing the mask of intellectualism while bullet pointing the worst of lowbrow pop culture, human behavior and the link between the two, but its high-horse dogmatism exudes the arrogance and ignorance it means to tear down. It’s surprisingly immature writing coming from an undoubtedly intelligent filmmaker who either truly believes what his characters are spewing, or only means to capitalize on the primal adolescence of its target audience.
And lastly, the movie is dreadfully tiring. Since the scenes in between the carnage seem to only exist to further highlight every aspect of crass American modernity, there isn’t much or any interest in trying to be humorous. For a film meant to be satirical, it’s sad that a film could get so caught up in its own politics that it forsakes comedy along the way. Additionally, because this is a black comedy intent on showing its audience graphic violence, it’s incredibly important that a minimal amount of humor be injected into the scene so that it might not be tonally jarring. Instead, God Bless America’s sole interest in overly senseless violence makes a few scenes feel unnecessarily disturbing, disrupting the flow that’s vital for the film’s survival.
If you want to make a film that shits on the supposed worst of mainstream media, journalism and human jackassery, then nothing should stop you. Unless, of course, you have no interest in being intellectually repetitive and petty in your depiction of the other side of the argument. Bobcat Goldthwait is a talented filmmaker, and it’s heartbreaking that he couldn’t do the basic idea justice.