104 min., dir. by Bobcat Goldthwait, with Joel Murray, Tara Lynn Barr, and Mackenzie Brooke Smith
About 12 years ago, the Japanese film Battle Royale was “banned” from being sold here in the States for its unapologetic depiction of kids killing kids. Now, since Hollywood is doing it with The Hunger Games, it’s okay. In this new climate, how will God Bless America — a film about a man and a teenage girl on a killing spree — fare with audiences? Who knows. The important thing is to look at all the layers of the film, not just the surface. God Bless America oddly defends all the crap it takes aim at, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss the point.
Frank (Joel Murray) just wants some peace and quiet. He’s divorced, his daughter doesn’t want to spend time with him because there are no video games at his house, his neighbors are loud and inconsiderate, and his dead-end job is nothing more to him than a chatterbox full of people talking about what happened last night on “The House Husbands of Orange County’s Real World Extreme Dance Off Factor of Fear.” When Frank gets the news he has an inoperable brain tumor, his anger and disgust with the world of today hits a boiling point.
Frank decides to hunt down and murder an ungrateful rich girl who has everything given to her and acts like a bitch. In the process, he meets Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr), a teenage girl who is glad Frank took out the spiteful brat. Roxy follows Frank and convinces him he is doing good work and should continue to rid the world of scum. The two then set out on a cross-country killing spree with the goal of taking down the epicenter of TV’s haven of hate and fame-whoring, “American Superstarz.”
Even for those who support the film, the premise is admittedly a hard pill to swallow at first. Maybe it was because I first saw the trailer the day after the school shooting in Ohio, and now, being so close in the time to the soldier who killed 16 innocent Afghans and the Trayvon Martin incident, I would not blame anyone for being upset with the contents of this movie. The actions of Frank and Roxy are presented in an outrageous manner, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the images a truly unhinged person would see in their head. Still, God Bless America is in no way glorifying the situations contained.
The brilliance of the film is that it perfectly illustrates writer and director Bobcat Goldthwait’s disgust and despair with what our society has become while simultaneously defending every little bit of it. For instance, there’s a Bill O’Reilly character in the film who garners Frank and Roxy’s attention. I’m sure O’Reilly will have a thing or two to say about God Bless America — how its distasteful humor is what’s wrong with the world, and that it shouldn’t be seen by anyone — but therein lies the cornerstone. The same general freedom every American can lean on whenever they are told they’re wrong for expressing their opinions is the same freedom that allows Bobcat to make this film. You don’t have to agree with it and you don’t have to like it, but you can’t ask for it not to be shown anymore than you can request Bill O’Reilly to be taken off the air.
For the most part, I agree with Bobcat on a lot of things. Reality television needs to die, and our insatiable hunger to be famous has to be stopped. It’s obvious this is a large part of what he intends to say. The larger picture, however, is what’s important: God Bless America is a test. It challenges you to draw a line between what is acceptable and what isn’t. You’ll find it’s hard to define anything properly after you see it.