God Bless America has a pair of “heroes” that most people could almost sympathize with. One is a man who has had enough with everyone regurgitating everything they hear about on reality shows, sports, and gossip programs and just wants the world to be a nicer place, while the other is a young lady who is sick of her mundane, everyday life and wants something new and exciting to happen to pull her out of it. These sound like common positions, right? However, as common as these positions might appear, these two aren’t content with sitting around hoping for things to change on their own.
The man is named Frank (Joel Murray). He is divorced, has a young daughter who doesn’t want to see him, and also suffers from migraines and insomnia. He constantly spends his nights listening to his loud neighbors and their always-crying baby and routinely falls asleep in front of a television set spewing out terrible reality shows. One day at work, after listening to his coworkers going on and on about an awful contestant on one of these shows, his frustration comes out in the form of a long rant about how terrible people can be and how unoriginal conversations are nowadays. Shortly afterward, his boss calls him into his office to let him go due to trying to cheer up a coworker by sending her flowers.
This, coupled with his doctor diagnosing him with a brain tumor, causes his anger against the people he was ranting about to come to a head when he decides to kill a star on another reality show. This murder is witnessed by another young girl, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who is extremely pleased with what Frank did, causing her to want to go with him and help him on his “quest.” Together they hit the road, determined to kill those who they deem to deserve it.
One of the most interesting parts of God Bless America is how Frank’s and Roxy’s criteria for who deserves to die differ. Frank mainly wants to kill people who are rude, like those making fun of the person who can’t sing on “American Superstarz” (an obvious jab at American Idol), people who talk in a movie theater, or a really mean political talk show host. Roxy appears to want to do it for far more general reasons such as not liking someone’s movies or wanting to kill people who give high-fives or even just people who use certain words, something Frank jokes about as she has a rant of her own.
There’s also a continual theme of mistaken intent running through the film. From the very start, after Frank kills the mean reality show star, he plans to kill himself, but Roxy tells him that all he’ll be remembered for is killing a girl that he had a mad crush on, which was obviously not his intent. After killing several people in a movie theater playing a war documentary, reporters automatically assume that it was the violent content of the documentary that caused Frank and Roxy to commit the murders when it was actually the simple problem of their victims talking and being rude.
Then there’s the controversial talk show host who tells them that if they kill him, he will become a martyr for his fans, which does indeed happen, but Frank doesn’t care at this point as his reason for killing him was simply that he was rude to his guests. All of these things lend themselves to the black comedy that the film is, whether it’s trivial reasons for wanting to kill someone or the way in which media mistakenly portrays what murderers are trying to do.
Like with several black comedies, it’s not really a laugh out loud kind of film, but more so an attempt to be shocking, or to use a word that Roxy dislikes, “extreme.” There are also numerous pop culture jabs being made aside from mocking American Idol and how that’s the only kind of thing people talk about anymore. As part of Roxy’s rant, she goes into how much she hates Diablo Cody (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno), and, in one of the film’s sicker jokes, disses Green Day while praising Alice Cooper and the Goth movement.
God Bless America was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, whom you may know as the squeaky-voiced comedian who has lent his familiar voice to several animated shows. He also brought us the bizarre, but well-done film World’s Greatest Dad back in 2009, which told the story of a father exploiting the death of his terrible son. Back then, I was surprised that he was the one to deliver such an interesting film, and now he’s delivered another one. He’s shown he has a knack for writing films with strange lead characters whose morals you will question, but whose exploits you will want to follow to the end. It also shows that, in order to find strange and interesting alternatives to mainstream films, sometimes you have to turn to the most unlikely of people.
Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America works well as a black comedy and as a satirical look at pop culture and human behavior.