God Bless America
Details: (MA15+), 105min, In Cinemas 15 November 2012, United States, English
Synopsis: Frank (Joel Murray) has had enough of the downward spiral of American culture. Divorced, recently fired, and possibly terminally ill, Frank feels he has nothing left to live for. Yet, rather than taking his own life, he embarks on a killing spree with cohort Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares his sense of rage and disenfranchisement. Together they embark on a nation-wide assault on America's stupidest, most irritating celebrities.
Comic revenge fantasy takes out easy targets.
Goldthwait takes the savagery of his satire to extreme visual lengths
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Giving full cinematic brio to the insane fantasies of someone who would have once been celebrated as a ‘Joe Average’, provocateur Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America wallows through the pulpy social sewerage of what remains of the American Dream.
Taking aim at such scourges of Western civilisation as YouTube fame, reality-TV glory and the basic demise of common decency might seem like a ‘fish-in-a-barrel’ assignment. This challenging black comedy often plays out as one man’s Howard Beale-like righteous response against the suffocating modern Sodom and Gomorrah that is the USA today.
But in the face of a relentlessly force-fed diet of celebrated crudity and the individual’s disconnect from humanity, our anti-hero Frank (Joel Murray) is left with no choice but to correct the imbalance that has tilted his once-great land from moral compass to immoral touchstone.
We meet the balding, paunchy Frank trying to enjoy some couch time in front of the TV – an image that, for many decades, encapsulated the essence of wholesome family togetherness. But Frank’s family is distant; his brattish daughter (Mackenzie Brook Smith) and ambivalent ex-wife (Melinda Page Hamilton) could care less that he even exists. As Frank channel surfs, mindlessly, the content mimics such low-point TV moments as Jackass, American Idol, Jersey Shore and the late-night shopping network quagmire.
Frank’s fractured mental state is revealed in a horrific fantasy sequence in which he finally silences the screeching baby next-door. His polite efforts at communicating with his work’s front-desk attendant are misconstrued as sexual harassment and he is fired; a doctor informs him he may have an inoperable tumour. He imagines his workmates slain, but does not have the gumption to make his own dreams real.
On the verge of offing himself, he has a moment of clarity and redirects his rage upon a society teen (Maddie Hasson), whose spoilt-brat antics have become internet meme gold. His actions are witnessed by thrill-seeking teen-outsider Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who abandons her drone-like middle-class existence to play Mallory to his Mickey in a shared crusade to rid America of its corrosive yearning for worthless recognition.
Goldthwait takes the savagery of his satire to extreme visual lengths; many scenes will shock, none more so than when Frank exacts bullet-riddled retribution on four punkish teens and a cell-phone user in a cinema. Given the timing of the film’s Australian premiere, it’s impossible for the scene to not remind viewers of the recent tragedy in Aurora, Denver. (When contacted by SBS, Mark Spratt, the head of the film’s Australian distributor, Potential Films, said he has no plans to delay the film’s release.)
While God Bless America bludgeons its barbs very effectively, its plot ultimately proves frustratingly thin. As Goldthwait and his protagonists keep lining up the victims on their murderous cross-country jaunt, one begins to wonder just how many shallow celeb wannabes and douche-bag stereotypes are left to execute, and what happens when there are no more (and where are all the cops while this is going on?) Joel Murray’s performance, as wonderfully droll as his brother Bill at his best, is a deliberately blank canvas that allows the viewer to colour the film with their own vengeful frustrations. But Roxy is an unconvincing partner (despite a suitably unhinged performance by Barr) whose motivation for tagging along on the kill spree is underdeveloped.
Without exhibiting anything particularly profound, God Bless America is most effective as a big, loud ‘f*** you’ to those responsible for breaking the spiritual back and socio-political might of a great empirical democracy; the joke being that those responsible are the movie’s key demographic. For many, watching talent show judges and A-list rich-bitch nobodies being slaughtered may be enough of a statement. Others may have hoped the director practiced more of what he preached and aimed higher.
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