Heathers. Falling Down. Badlands. Network. These are a few of my favorite movies, and they all came to mind while watching Bobcat Goldthwait's new hyper-cynical film about a sad-sack who goes on a killing spree after losing his job and learning he’s got an inoperable brain tumor that will soon end his life. In some ways darker and in some ways more of a live-action cartoon than his previous black comedy, World’s Greatest Dad, this new work of Goldthwait's is sure to be a vicarious favorite for anyone against the world we currently live in and especially where it’s headed. I see a lot of doom and gloom documentaries for this job, but God Bless America may be the one film this year that has me most worried for my future, unborn children.
The movie, which I have to point out was so perfect to view in Canada on the eve of the tenth anniversary of September 11th (not only because there are "never forget" jokes), will be criticized for being anti-American, but it’s only anti-many-Americans and the terribly narcissistic, impolite and thoughtless behavior these people exhibit regularly in the age of reality TV and culture influencers like Glenn Beck and Diablo Cody. Fortunately, anyone who might be offended or will dislike God Bless America will likely walk out during the opening, in which a baby is bloodily blown away by a shotgun during a fantasy sequence.
Joel Murray, who previously costarred with Goldthwait in One Crazy Summer and the comedian-turned-filmmaker’s directorial debut, Shakes the Clown, leads here as the disgruntled and disgusted divorced dad Frank, who begins his rampage after flipping channels and becoming overwhelmed by the falling-civilization omens he sees on TV, a montage that includes parodies of Fox News, The Jersey Shore, energy drink commercials, Jackass, American Idol and whatever reality show is about a spoiled rich teen (I guess there are probably many). Frank suddenly becomes inspired to drive down from Syracuse to Virginia to murder that vain young girl, Chloe -- star of “Cloe” -- and then her horrible parents.
While there, he’s joined up by Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr), an impressed, outcast classmate of Chloe’s from a broken home who wants to emulate Bonnie Parker and Patty Hearst and kill everyone from the jocks to NASCAR fans to gay-hating fundamentalists to strippers-turned-screenwriters to people who high-five. Frank and Roxy have many conversations throughout the movie regarding who they want dead, exchanges that make God Bless America feel like a lengthy spin-off of Ed Norton’s “f*ck you” monologue in The 25th Hour. Ironically, at one point Frank rants against pedophile culture with attacks against Woody Allen and Vladimir Nabokov. The platonic duo may not become lovers, but it can’t be an accident that Barr very much resembles Adrian Lyne’s Lolita star, Dominique Swain.
Of course the spree is misrepresented in the media with some of the murdered becoming martyred, their deaths speculatively credited to Al Qaeda. It’s kind of reminiscent of the “Heather Chandler is more popular than ever” line from Heathers. And after a movie theater massacre (which, isolated, seems like a “no talking” PSA produced for the Alamo Drafthouse), the blame is obviously put on the film showing in the cinema, a war documentary. Somehow, though, there is no underground celebration of these elusive natural born killers, whether by morbid fans of mass murderers or a cult of grateful admirers conscious of the pattern.
At times God Bless America veers awfully close to the corny shenanigans of John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented, a pretentiously contemptuous anti-Hollywood satire that comes off too pleased with itself and similarly, disappointingly has only one predictable direction to go in after exhausting whatever wit-filled tirades the filmmaker wishes to have his characters spout in his honor. Frank gets a bit too explicitly preachy in the end during a climax that feels like a comedy sketch, from its too slight set construction to its drawn out premise. And this premise seems like it might have been the first idea Goldthwait conceived, and then he worked backwards to tell a story that gets there.
Still, the route of this literal road movie is a vicious, hilarious blast. And I love that Murray, who appears mostly on TV these days (Mad Men; Shameless), gets to rule in a film role like this, which initially seems like a vehicle for his older, more famous brother, Bill. Barr, a Disney Channel and Nickelodeon vet but relative newcomer, may at times be a tad ill fit as the overly bubbly Alice Cooper-obsessed runaway, but it’s also nice that she’s not the typical brooding goth kid you’d expect. Her excitement almost makes her the manic pixie dream girl to Frank’s sad-sack loser, but she’s not intended as a love interest so much as a complimentary sparkplug, and thank god her precociousness is curbed just enough to work.
If you have any complaints about current American culture, this is a comedy for you. That probably means it’s a comedy for everyone. Much like the excellent Toronto-premiering documentary Last Call at the Oasis, which tackles the doom and gloom of the global water crisis, God Bless America would seem to be accessible and necessary to all human beings. We’re as much inundated with atrocious media as we’re dependent on water. This movie, however, is likely not agreeable to more conservative audiences, unless they have a very good sense of humor, about themselves and the rest of the world. .