Competing with Killer Joe for darkest comedy at this year’s EIFF, God Bless America is a scathingly angry attack on the type of modern American (and let’s face it, global) culture that celebrates stupidity, shallowness and cruelty.
Joel Murray manages to out sad-sack his brother Bill as Frank, a friendless, divorced office worker who spends his days staring in horrified disbelief at the parade of hideous reality stars and scare-mongering “social commentators that pollute his TV. He simply can’t understand the total lack of compassion and basic decency that pervades a society where all anyone wants is to be famous. When on the same day Frank is fired for sexual harassment after trying to make a connection with a co-worker, he’s also diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
Deciding he has nothing left to lose, he sets out to do away with the repellent celebrities, Tea Party members and anyone else who he believes is adding to the downward spiral of America. In the early stages of his crusade he encounters Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) a 16-year-old social outcast who shares his hatred of cruel celebrity culture and pledges to join him.
Bobcat Goldthwait’s satirical bloodbath manages to be both hilariously, outrageously funny and depressingly reflective of modern life. The early sequences where Frank is exposed to unending, tawdry celebrations of stupidity on TV feel like scenes from some dystopian sci-fi film until you realise they’re actually just slightly exaggerated versions of the reality shows that now dominate the TV schedules both in America and on this side of the Atlantic.
Frank is like a cross between Travis Bickle and George Bailey and is possibly the most likable mass-murderer in cinematic history. This is mainly due to his dedication to decency and fair playm and to the fact that his victims are such caricatured, hideous monsters even if they are all horribly recognisable. Frank is also quite clearly acting as a mouthpiece for Goldthwait himself; he delivers several brilliantly bitter monologues where he rails against all the facets of modern popular culture that he despises and it’s hard not to find yourself thinking he’s hit the nail on the head every time. I’m not sure what his beef with the new Battlestar Galactica is though!
The addition of his young sidekick Roxy may have been to stop the film feeling like Grumpy Old Murderers, but it also allows the film to explore generational differences. Frank thinks he’s found a kindred spirit in the equally embittered Roxy but her joy at the idea that the murderous pair might become celebrities themselves, suggests the lust for fame may be hopelessly ingrained in young people.
Despite its excessive body count and the bitter rage at its heart, God Bless America has a light, almost cartoonish tone and far from being disturbing the violence often feels like slapstick. Despite this there will obviously be people who see it as irresponsible with its suggestion that so many people deserve to die and that the world would be better without them. But for people smart enough to appreciate the satire it’s a reassuringly cynical yet surprisingly warm-hearted, laugh filled comedy.
Overall Verdict: A furious and funny satire that takes no prisoners. For anyone sick of the shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture we live in its gratifying proof that you are not alone.
Reviewer: Adam Pidgeon