God Bless America

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5.1

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On a mission to rid society of its most repellent citizens, terminally ill Frank makes an unlikely accomplice in 16-year-old Roxy.

Frank (Joel Murray) is a middle-aged man who feels as if he is losing everything. He is a divorced father of one who lives alone next to noisy, inconsiderate neighbours.  He has trouble sleeping and fills in his lonely hours watching television. Everything he sees convinces him that America is becoming a less kind, less civil society; the insulting comedy of radio shock jocks, the vapid water cooler conversations he overhears at his work place–these confirm his disgust at the people he lives among. Frank believes life is about moral choices and that most are choosing the low road.

Thus far, the anti-hero of GOD BLESS AMERICA is a not-too-distant relative of  D-FENS, Michael Douglas from FALLING DOWN (1993) and Travis Bickle from TAXI DRIVER (1976). These men are angry loners who are disappointed with the American dream and who use violence to express themselves. What is different about director Bobcat Goldthwait’s approach is that he uses black comedy to take us on this journey.

The worst of Goldthwait’s uncivil America is represented through knock-offs of reality shows. This world is only slightly more deranged than the one we know. In the show Tuff Girls, one woman throws a used tampon at another to make a point, in another program that clearly apes MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, we are shown a truly obnoxious teenager called Chloe who berates her wealthy parents for buying her the wrong car for her birthday.  Frank sees parallels between his own much younger daughter and the horrendous Chloe.

Frank’s awful life is so beset with pressures that we sense an imminent snapping point. The audience holds its breath in anticipation of the moment when Frank decides to act. This is the nub of the movie. Goldthwait creates an anti-hero we relate to, exposes him to a full-range of self-entitled jerks and we wait pleasurably for the inevitable violent beat-down. To quote Captain Picard from STAR TREK FIRST CONTACT: “The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done!”

After a series of twists, Frank teams up with bored teen, Roxy who admires him for what she thinks he is doing. The pair have a strange relationship. Goldthwait keeps us guessing about the potential creepiness that could develop. This is undercut somewhat by Tara Lynne Barr’s energetic and intelligent performance as Roxy, but we aren’t allowed to forget that an emotional connection between these too is simply not right.

Goldthwait is reluctant to use his movie to draw conclusions; he prefers to leave this in our hands. Saying it is merely a celebration of vigilantism or gun violence would be a superficial reading of GOD BLESS AMERICA. It was completed a year before the current national soul-searching that America is experiencing about gun ownership and rampage murders. The movie’s attitudes and ideas are quite detached from this debate. Goldthwait has created a black comic fantasy; a safety valve for our petty anger about the slights we receive in day-to-day living. This film is not an examination of on-going mental illness or the death of innocent victims.  However, if you see this kind of film as irresponsible, that is, of course, your right.  The director calls GOD BLESS AMERICA “a violent film about kindness”.

105 minutes. (6/10)

Phil has written for magazines, corporate videos, online ads, and even an app. He writes with one eye on the future, one eye on the past and a third eye on the Lotto numbers. His social bits are here.  
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