Have you ever flipped through the television channels and found yourself disgusted at the sorry state of American culture? Have you ever seen reality shows that you find so unfit for human consumption, that you wouldn’t even wish them on the most violent of prisoners? Have you ever been so repulsed by the violent and hateful rhetoric of so-called news pundits that you wished something awful happened to them? In short – are you sick of the culture that worships everything crude, crass and mean? If so, God Bless America might be right up your alley.
As the movie opens, the middle-aged Frank (Joel Murray) is having an exceptionally rough week. Saddled with a job he hates, a failed marriage, a shallow daughter that never wants to see him, and rude neighbors, he is just trying to make it through the day. But after losing his job because of a paranoid co-worker, then denied a weekend with his daughter, and finally being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, Frank finally reaches the end of his rope. Late one night Frank sits at the couch, flipping through the TV channels with one hand and positioning a gun in his mouth with the other. As his attention drifts from terrible reality TV, to an awful contest show obviously resembling American Idol, to a vitriolic news pundit that could be any number of info-tainment hosts on cable news…Frank has an epiphany. He’s not going to use the gun kill himself; he’s going to use the gun to clean up where society went wrong.
Frank wastes no time, and before you know it, he’s had his first kill on a cross-country trip to “take out the trash.” Unknowingly, a high school girl, Roxy (a precocious Tara Lynne Barr) witnesses the entire act…and instead of alerting the authorities or running, she drops her whole life to join him on his killing spree. Bubbling with endless enthusiasm, Roxy quickly wins Frank over. She starts a long laundry list of people that should get the bullet, including Diablo Cody and people that still “high five.” Frank, acting as awkward father-figure, spells out the rules. They only kill people “that deserve it.” Which roughly means anyone on television that celebrates being mean, shallow, and manipulative. As you might imagine, in today’s television line-up, that’s quite a list.
Written and directed by veteran comedian and actor Bobcat Goldthwaite, the film never loses track of its humor. And Goldthwaite lays his moral justification for Frank early in the film. From Frank’s point of view, America is already doomed, and the pathetic excuses for entertainment on television are reminiscent of the Roman’s bread and circuses as the empire decayed. “Can’t people be nice to each other?” Frank pleads. It’s a soft, defeatist tone – from a man who already knows the answer. And though it’s doubtful any sane person will agree with the tactic of taking lives to solve the problem, it is easy to see where he is coming from.
Ironically, it is God Bless America’s call for sanity that comes through despite all the violence. There is so much raw outrage to contend with, considering the veritable rogue’s gallery of offenders. What makes you the angriest? Celebrating spoiled, narcissistic young people as an admirable lifestyle? Elevating hate-filled diatribes from political commentators to primetime? Manipulating young people to tear and snarl at each other for our entertainment? Mocking the less beautiful, untalented, and unfortunate? Or is simply the daily indignity of self-absorbed people with no common courtesy? Whatever your poison, Goldthwaite hits a nerve and will find at least one thing about the American zeitgeist that will make your blood boil while making you laugh. It’s a delicious revenge fantasy.
Goldthwaite said that this movie is “the most violent movie ever made about kindness.” Some might find the violence unpalatable. But as a cathartic expression of rage against the powers that be, the tone is just right. If you’ve ever asked yourself “am I the only one that hates this junk?” you will realize, no, you are not. Goldthwaite himself has only expressed one regret. “I regret that we didn’t blow up the beach house on Jersey Shore.”