God Bless America is a harshly satirical tale
Starring Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. Unrated. Opens Saturday, June 16, at the Vancity Theatre
“Everything’s become so cruel,” says the unlikely hero of God Bless America, “and I just want it all to stop.” This is before Joel Murray’s downtrodden, recently divorced Frank is fired and diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
Frank’s initial plan is to make short work of his long tragedy, but the intercession of a lippy 15-year-old girl called Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) encourages him to go on a pop-culture-addled killing spree. Initially, this millennial Bonnie and Clyde want to eradicate anyone who high-fives or uses the word literally the wrong way, but they travel the U.S. instead, going after right-wing hate mongers and movie-theatre talkers.
Such is the transgressive vision of Bobcat Goldthwait, the strangle-voiced comic who, as writer-director, spreads the pain, and the funny, to others. Excellent Mad Men veteran Murray shares with older brother Bill a flare for deadpan rage masking inherent decency. (It’s as if the director had given Stephen Root’s stapler-hoarding sociopath in Office Space his very own Oliver Stone movie.)
Shown here as part of a Goldthwait retrospective—with the filmmaker attending the first two nights—the harshly satirical tale is at its best early on, simply skewering the everyday humiliations suffered by Frank, who remains highly articulate in the face of growing disgust, then carnage. Like him, the filmmaker has picked some easy targets—literally—and not all are hit fair and square. This America is often visually arresting, but the lack of budget hinders the climax, set at an American Idol–type finale that looks more like a regional talent show.
In the end, the cult-minded film can’t quite support its many contradictions. I mean, how can killing people possibly help restore the “civility” Frank misses? And, of course, caustic comics like Goldthwait have contributed to the coarsening of society. He seems to know that, however, and the movie doesn’t let him, or us, off the hook.
Watch the trailer for God Bless America.