Review: God Bless America
Starring: Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr
Plot: When Frank finds out that he is terminally ill, he decides to exterminate the most rude people in society with the help of a pint-sized rambunctious teenager.
Bobcat Goldthwaite made a name for himself as a mumbling idiot archetype in 80s comedies, but he has been rebranding himself lately as a writer/director of some very dark dramedies. 2009’s World’s Greatest Dad was one of the best surprises of that year. It tackled some really dark and disturbing ideas with a certain level of sweetness. It’s kind of hard to describe, and I don’t think many people will be as drawn to Bobcat’s work as I am. God Bless America attempts to rekindle that feeling.
Frank is an exceedingly sweet man. He is kind of a pushover. He is constantly mistreated by his neighbor, and he does very little to stand up to them. He also seems like a pretty quiet guy. He is divorced from his wife who is already reengaged to someone else. His daughter is young and spoiled, and she has no desire to visit her father. He rolls his eyes at the worst of humanity that is paraded on reality television and the media and public who embrace those people as something special. Or as targets for their venomous gossip. It is everything everyone wants to say, but doesn’t because deep down they still take some guilty pleasure in the very thing Frank hates. Joel Murray is pretty fantastic as Frank. He never has a big freak out moment. His personality never takes a turn for the worst; he just finds the motivation to take on his actions. His very calm and collected cadence actually makes him a little scarier. Like an absent-minded Travis Bickle.
The victims of Frank’s wrath run the gamut of awful people. Bobcat doesn’t even try to be subtle when lampooning certain celebrities. There is a talking head news pundit who never gives anyone a chance to really talk on his show a la Bill O’Reilly. There is a congregation following a hate-mongering pastor a la the Westboro Baptist Church. And then there are all the regularly annoying people like drivers who take up two parking spaces.
The hardest part for the movie to portray is the relationship between Frank and his would-be sidekick, Roxy. Some of the scenes of them together are really sweet in a father-daughter way. In one scene, where Frank teaches Roxy out to shoot, you forget that they are practicing killing people. Bobcat is smart to get passed the older guy/younger girl creepy dynamic almost right away. The young girl tries to flirt with Frank, but Frank has zero intention of a sexual relationship from the get-go. This settles some serious stigma that could have weighed down on the movie as it moves on. The real problem is Roxy seems to undermine Frank’s intentions. She believes in his revenge against the rude, but she seems to misunderstand what it means to be rude. She is constantly suggesting people who simply annoy her instead of people who are mistreating other people.
Unfortunately, Bobcat seemed to be missing an endgame. Maybe we aren’t worth saving. Or maybe there was never anything wrong with us. I’m not entirely sure. When Frank has the opportunity to justify himself, he explains why he started. It is a speech that reminds me of Peter Finch’s in Network. No joke! But then with an ill-placed punchline, Frank loses all his momentum.
God Bless America was not the black comic genius I was hoping for, but it was still damn entertaining. It is a twisted cathartic fantasy of a writer/director who I very much look forward to seeing more of. Honestly, it’s worth seeing for Murray’s performance alone.