It wouldn’t be unreasonable to call Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest, God Bless America, an absolute zenith of madness. This is the movie that will surely separate the director’s casual fans from the truly dedicated. Time to decide if you’ll sink with his ship or swim to safer waters. Me, well, I guess I’ll sink.
Depending on how you look at it, God Bless America is either a black comedy or an occasionally funny fever dream (I’d lean towards the latter), but both ways it remains tremendously sad. Middle-aged, and now terminally-ill Frank (Joel Murray) teams up with his misanthropic equal: a dementedly spunky teenage brunette named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Their mission? To rid the world of the undesirables. On a smaller scale, we’re talking people who take up two parking spaces for no damn reason, or don’t turn off their phones at the theater. On a larger scale, fear-mongers and reality TV stars and truly evil people. Win win, right? Roxy and Frank sure seem to think so.
In an act of supreme cruelty on the part of Goldthwait, the two leads are surprisingly likable and sympathetic, even as they commit horrible and relatively selfish crimes. Helping that are the fantastic performances from Murray and especially Barr. Even when you’re uncomfortable with what’s happening, you can understand where they’re coming from. A little bit. Maybe. Or not.
Such is the dilemma with truly committing to God Bless America. The whole thing is just so spectacularly blunt (The TMZ parody channel is TMI; American Idol, American Superstarz, etc.), and… I hesitate to call it realistic, but let’s just say that when Frank handcuffs a teen television show star to the steering wheel of a car and shoots her in the head, it’s more nauseating than truly funny. Goldthwait distances himself well from the characters, though, and their complaints are far too broad to be taken seriously (Roxy decides they should kill Diablo Cody, NASCAR fans, and women who call their breasts “the girls,” in a string of particularly amusing scenes).
In all the violence and chaos that ensues, it’s easy to lose sight of the point, and even easier to wonder if there was a point at all. It’s a criticism of current American culture, sure, but it doubles as a criticism of those who swamp themselves in the muck just to complain about it. I guess the real message is just, “be nice,” no matter how facile that sounds. Goldthwait and company have done the near impossible in creating in a movie that’s effortlessly charming on one hand and really, truly difficult on the other. That would seem to be the point.
Regardless, God Bless America is fascinating and entertaining. The script is excellent, most of the time at least, and Tara Lynne Barr is a fantastic find. Goldthwait directs with less emotional impact than he did with World’s Greatest Dad, but he has an impressive musicality on display here that was obviously fun for him to experiment with. There’s a good chance you’ll hate God Bless America, but it might scratch an itch you didn’t even really realize you had. Keep talking, Mr. Goldthwait. I’m listening.
God Bless America is available currently through Comcast’s On Demand service. It releases in theaters on May 11th.