Dir. by Bobcat Goldthwait - 1 hr. 45 min.
Official Red Band Trailer
by Clayton Hollifield
"God Bless America" is pretty much exactly what I hope for when I see an independent film - an audacious, possibly unpopular idea executed well. If the idea of gunning down celebutards was a popular one, this wouldn't have to be an independent film. Money-men would be lining up at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and claim their chunk of the profits, and you'd have a big-budget, broad comedy that said nothing. Maybe "God Bless America" won't get seen by as many people, but it takes a common refrain, turns it into the absurd, and sticks to its guns.
Frank (Joel Murray) is a divorced middle-aged insomniac, and his life isn't getting any better. He spends his nights awake, channel-surfing, and getting no reprieve from his insomnia. He works in a cubicle, surrounded by people who discuss American Superstarz (you know, "Idol"), his ex-wife is unable to control their increasingly bratty daughter, and his d-bag neighbor routinely boxes his car in every night. When things take a turn for the worse, and Frank apparently has nothing left to lose, he arms himself and decides to take out his frustration on the teenage star of a reality show, Chloe (Maddie Hasson). One of Chloe's classmates, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), begs to come along and for Frank to continue on this path.
"God Bless America" is a movie born out of frustration with popular culture. Often people will tell you that if you don't like a TV program, simply not to watch. The problem with that is that you can't also switch off the people who watch this stuff, nor switch off the people who base their behavior on the aggressive, dumb, and mean people on those shows. It's not enough for you, yourself not to engage in this behavior, when you're surrounded by people who are aggressively rude. Is it overreacting to gun down people who act like assholes in a theatre? Maybe, but when people act in that manner, it's foolish to expect that there isn't going to be a reaction at all. Frank is presented as the only sane man in an insane world, or at least the only person who seems capable of examining his own behavior, and then adjusting it accordingly. Everyone else is either going along with a system, or simply isn't capable of self-examination in the first place.
All of that is not a popular message, that people should take a second look at how they affect the people around them. It's a very pointed criticism, implying that people haven't even taken a first look at how they affect those around them, and one that's not likely to sit well with the sort of people who need to take a look in the mirror, possibly because some people haven't ever even considered that what they do isn't positive, and there are people who think they should be gunned down for being who they are. Frank's stance is that spreading evil and being mean all the time is bad. It's a very straight-forward stance, and there's even some dialogue between Frank and Roxy, talking about selecting their next targets, that makes this explicit. It's not a matter of taste, as Roxy brings up people like NASCAR and country fans; that's just a matter of preference (and they feel the same way about people who sip lattes and blaspheme, so down that path lies mutually assured destruction). It's a matter of lowering the bar for profit, which is evil, no matter your justification.
All that stuff is the message, but "God Bless America" is a comedy, and it's a pretty funny one. Joel Murray was perfect for this material, like a more composed/less cartoony Milton from "Office Space," carrying a world's worth of frustration and anger on his shoulders. And the Roxy character is a burst of energy, off-setting Frank's weariness. Tara Lynne Barr is just right for that role, saving Frank's life (literally, which her character would be delighted to know that I'm using correctly here) and keeping him going. This isn't a pretty, feel-good comedy, but if you're in a foul mood for whatever reason, you might find yourself agreeing with both the premise and how Frank chooses to deal with it, and in a way that might make you a little uncomfortable, and will require some self-examination to come to terms with. That's why "God Bless America" is an indie film (in the best way possible); for a lot of people it'll come off mean-spirited, but for some people, it's going to feel just right. This movie isn't for everyone, that's kind of the point.
3.5 / 5 - Streaming