A lot of people have recommended Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait)’s new movie God Bless America to me for reasons that will be completely evident after you’ve watched the trailer below.
So it’s about a guy who goes on a spree killing reality television stars, people who talk in movie theaters, Westboro Baptist-types and assholes in general. This would be directly up my alley even if I hadn’t once read a really spectacular book on a similar subject written by an incredibly gifted and sexy author. For the sake of maintaining some vague semblance of journalistic integrity, though, I’m going to review God Bless America on its own merits and not compare it to the single greatest work of fiction in the history of mankind.
As I said above, this is the story of a guy named Frank who has lost his wife and child (who are pretty terrible anyway, to be honest), lost his job, and been told that he has an inoperable brain tumor. So he gets out his gun, steals a car and goes on a mission to murder the spoiled, awful star of one of those “My Sweet 16”-style reality shows. He’s joined by a disenfranchised teenage girl named Roxy, and together they roam the country fucking murdering assholes.
I really enjoyed this movie with one big caveat, which I will discuss later. It’s in turn gleefully violent, very funny and oddly touching. There is a fair amount of violence, and that violence is perpetrated with the kind of sick joy that you find in Quentin Tarantino’s best moments. The relationship between Frank and Roxy is delightful, and Goldthwait addresses the inherent creepiness of a middle-aged man taking an underage girl on a road trip more or less successfully. In fact, their relationship is one of the things I liked the best. There is a scene where Roxy keeps needling Frank about his love life and asking him if he finds her attractive, and Frank continually shuts her down and explains in a very patient, parental way that he will not have that discussion because it is inappropriate. It’s a fairly awkward scene that plays very real and also very quietly funny when compared to the entire premise of the movie: here is the line that Frank will not cross. He will teach this girl to kill, but he will not allow her to be put into a situation where her sexuality is compromised. I have to say, I sorta respect that.
The movie would absolutely not have worked without the stellar performance of Joel Murray (he was Greg’s asshole friend on Dharma and Greg, remember?). He’s dry as a bone and never overplays either the tragedy or the comedy, maintaining a perfect balance of weariness and anger throughout. Tara Lynne Barr’s Roxy is a bit of a mixed bag. She’s great on the whole, but there are a few moments that really show her resume of bit roles on Nickelodeon comedies – the kind of presentational humor that kids love and anyone over the age of 15 rolls their eyes at.
The big caveat that I mentioned earlier is with the script. The pacing is fine, though it slows down in a few spots, but I think it really shoots itself in the foot in a few key ways. There are several overly long sequences that feel like they were extended in order to flesh a 60-minute movie out to an 80-minute run time and for a movie as disgusted by the American obsession with pop culture as God Bless America seems to be, there are a few too many Kardashian jokes and lists of pop stereotypes that should be murdered. And my biggest issue is that Goldthwait’s script does too much proselytizing. If he were to cut the several lengthy monologues about how we should all be more respectful of each other then the film would play as an escapist fantasy with light moral overtones. But as written, it honestly plays as though the point of the movie is to sincerely advocate murdering people who are discourteous or self-centered which, aside from being a little disconcerting, is probably not what Goldthwait intended.
In all, God Bless America is a movie worth seeing if you’re in the market for silly, violent fun and the kind of prurient joy that only be garnered from watching terrible, terrible people get their due. It’s certainly not without its flaws, but its merits generally outweigh them.