“No one is shocked by anything anymore.”
Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America is a biting backlash against the dumbed down, celebrity obsessed world of reality TV and trashy talk shows. Divorced, diagnosed with a terminal tumour, and fired from his job after a gesture of friendship is misconstrued as sexual harassment, Frank (Joel Murray) is a man pushed to the edge of his limits in a culture where no one seems to care. No one has any real conversation. Water-cooler chat revolves around the regurgitation of views heard on radio shows and gossip columns name checking the Kardashians. Likening the dumbing down of society to the fall of Rome, Frank indulges in flights of fantasy where he guns down his co-workers and blasts the brains out of his neighbours from hell.
The tipping point comes during an episode of My Sweet 16, in which a spoiled teenager screams all manner of obscenities at her parents for buying her the wrong make of car for her birthday. Having just received a tantrum-filled phonecall from his estranged little girl regarding not having an iPhone, Frank decides to rid the world of the obnoxious reality TV teen.
With nothing to lose, and content to kill himself straight after, Frank is confronted by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who – enthused and excited by his decision to kill what she sees as one of the worst types of human imaginable – convinces him to keep on going. The unlikely pair set out on a road trip with the intent of clearing away multiple blights on society. Featuring scenes that will no doubt bring joy to those who have ever been irritated by noisy cinema goers and whose hackles have been raised by the Westboro Baptist Church, all elements of popular culture-gone-wrong are targets in their cross hairs.
Joel Murray is outstanding as Frank. A sad-eyed everyman, with a longing for the days when people indulged in real conversation, and the weak were not persecuted or seen as figures to be ridiculed. In what is his first major role, Murray shines, and I do hope we get to see much more of him on the back of this. The relationship between Frank and Roxy is rather touching. Clear boundaries are set as to what Frank sees as right and wrong in their pairing, and it’s clear that with his own little girl too wrapped up in her materialistic problems to even want to see him, Roxy becomes almost a surrogate daughter. Yes, not many fathers would take their child on a killing spree, I know, but the level of affection and tenderness is definitely there. Tara Lynne Barr is sparky and effervescent as Roxy, seeing only the good in her actions, but unaware of the hurt she is able to cause Frank when he has opened himself up to forming a bond with her.
With God Bless America, Goldthwait has a lot to say about the high regard society places on celebrity culture, the exploitation of the mentally challenged, the inability of people to be shocked in this day and age, the dumbing down of the media, the degeneration of society as a whole, and also touches on the objectification of children. It’s rather sad that in order to finally get their message across to a wider audience, Frank and Roxy have to become part of what they hate most in order to reach the masses.
During Frank’s daydreams pre-killing spree, Goldthwait throws in a moment that has the possibility of leading to a few cinema walk outs. Something shocking that may be a stretch too far for many. It gives a brief glimpse of how bad things could get if you stick with Frank on his journey, and you might not want to go along for the ride. But you should. There’s a lot that is wrong with the world these days, and Bobcat Goldthwait provides a darkly comical antidote.