Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of properties that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you crack them open have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr
Earlier this year, I caught up with director Bobcat Goldthwait’s acclaimed 2009 comedy World’s Greatest Dad on Netflix and was extremely impressed with it. I loved how Goldthwait, a stand-up comic best known for screaming and setting talk show couches ablaze, managed to craft a story that was not only dark and funny, but also managed to create an effective protagonist that the viewer couldn’t help but sympathize with –even if he did some unsavory things. Based on the strength of that film, I was anxious to check out his new movie, God Bless America to see if it had the same balance of comedy and tragedy. Sadly, I was to be greatly disappointed when I finally checked it out. God Bless America intends to be a poignant satire that takes aim at all of society’s ills, but it turned out to be a shallow and ultimately boring tirade against many aspects of American culture that most people agree are annoying, but are far from the roots of what’s wrong with our country. It’s less of a movie as it is a 105-minute dramatization of bad stand-up material.
The movie stars Joel Murray (brother of Bill) as Frank, a divorced office worker who decides to kill himself after being fired from his office job and being diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. Frank then decides to direct his rage and general disappointment in life at the aspects of pop culture that he finds disdainful after watching a bratty teen being generally horrible on a trashy MTV-style reality show. He steals his obnoxious neighbor’s sports car and drives to the girl’s high school, where he brutally shoots her in her car. He is spotted by Roxy (Disney Channel alum Tara Lynne Barr) , a classmate of the girl who is thrilled with what Frank did and soon convinces him to take her along with him on a spree of violence against people who, in Frank’s words, have forgotten how to “be nice.”
The movie follows the murderous pair as they target a number of annoying yet generally innocuous people such as talkers and texters in movie theaters and people who double-park. Their targets soon get more political as they go after right-wing pundits and a stand-in for the Westboro Baptist Church. Soon after, the focus goes back to pop culture fluff as Frank attempts to ambush the taping of an American Idol-style talent show, where he hopes to show the American viewing public just how much their society has devolved.
The idea that a protagonist goes crazy in the attempt to take back his country is not a new concept. It’s been handled before, and much better, in film’s such as Taxi Driver, Death Wish, and most recently in James Gunn’s Super. That recent film featured a character who fought violently against people who have personally wronged him, but God Bless America is merely content with lashing out against things that are only symptoms of what could be called an overly decadent and morally-bankrupt society. While both Taxi Driver and Super showed the dark and self-destructive side of vigilantism and portrayed their protagonists in a grey and mostly unsympathetic light, God Bless America treats Frank and Roxy as modern-day folk heroes as they gun down mostly innocent people who they feel aren’t “nice.” If Goldthwait had explored the moral questions inherent in this type of story, this may have turned into an interesting film, but he doesn’t seem interested in doing that. Instead, he turns Frank and Roxy into his personal mouthpieces who, when they’re not brutally killing people they find repulsive, spend the majority of their free time spouting venom about everything and everyone they don’t like about pop culture. The only time either of them says anything positive is when Roxy spends three minutes giving a clumsily-written lecture about the greatness of Alice Cooper. The rest of the dialogue between the two characters mainly consist of them listing all the things that piss them off about people, which quickly gets old.
The overall philosophy of the film is flawed and ultimately counter-productive to the characters’ motives. They say they want to punish people for being mean by killing them, which itself is not a nice thing to do, but they also turn their rage toward people who choose to be entertained by the very aspects of current American culture that they despise. This ultimately makes them proto-fascists, which the movie seems to have no problem with. God Bless America doesn’t give the viewer any reason to empathize with Frank or Roxy other than by pointing out things that they hate that the audience also happens to hate. That’s the only real connection we are asked to share with them, which doesn’t make for a compelling film.
God Bless America is a brainless, spiteful rant disguised as social satire and is right now my least favorite film of 2012. It’s even more disappointing because Bobcat Goldthwait showed with World’s Greatest Dad that he is capable of making a well-made, compelling film with a relatable, sympathetic protagonist. This film is obviously a way for Goldthwait to express his frustration with the world today, so maybe now that he has gotten this story out of his system, he can continue to realize the potential he showed with his earlier movies. 1 out of 5 Mental High-Fives.