By Sebastian Clare.
Frank has had enough. Divorced and living alone, he fantasises about killing his incessantly loud and obnoxious next-door neighbours and observes, through his television set, the increasing decadence of American culture. In the space of no time, he is fired from his job on a trumped-up harassment claim and is informed by his extraordinarily insensitive doctor that he has a brain tumour. It is only as he is on the brink of suicide that he resolves to kill one particularly loathsome celebrity teenager, as a symbol of his protest at the state of civilisation. Through this almost-botched endeavour he meets Roxy, a fiercely smart social outcast, and the two embark on a killing spree to set the world to rights…
To call this film brilliant would be an understatement of simply epic proportions. The movie is propelled by amazing performances from the central duo, the experienced Joel Murray and the precocious Tara Lynn Barr. Murray does a fantastic job at imbuing Frank with all the pained disappointment, righteous indignation and too-long-suppressed rage that the character needs in order to encourage sympathy – no mean feat when, in essence, he is a mass murderer by the time the credits roll. However, it is Barr’s borderline psychotic Roxy who steals the show, an exceptional debut performance from the young actress with a big future.
Bobcat Goldthwait’s script absolutely seethes with anger at what he perceives to be an America that has dissolved into a heartless, homogeneous, hateful cesspit with few redeeming features whatsoever, and it is impossible not to empathise with the protagonists as they spray bullets at all and sundry who offend them. There are definite echoes from Marx’s theory of alienation and Gramsci’s cultural hegemony at work here, and the politics of the film are clearly to the left of anything current in mainstream American discourse. At one point Frank and Roxy gun down a rabid right-wing talk-show host (an obvious caricature of Bill O’Reilly), and even the logo of the film’s vapid music talent show ‘American Superstars’ looks like a cross between the Star Trek symbol and the anarchy sign.
Aside from the wry social awareness and rebellious, almost inflammatory message, the movie would be nothing were it not absolutely hilarious. There is a perverse pleasure to be had in seeing the unashamedly rude and horrendously mean getting a violent comeuppance. From Tea Party wingnuts to people who won’t be quiet in a theatre, from people who take two parking spots to the ‘God Hates Fags’ brigade, not one ignorant egotist is safe from this modern day Bonnie & Clyde – albeit a platonic version, as the lovers/killers trope is cleverly averted in one deft stroke via an impassioned rant from Frank at the overt sexualisation of adolescents.
To have made a movie like this, in the United States today, is a phenomenally brave move on Goldthwait’s part. In seeking to persuade the audience to identify with individuals who gun down those they see as repugnant and unworthy of life, he was always courting controversy. God Bless America has elements of Super (2010), He Was a Quiet Man (2007), Natural Born Killers (1994), and doubtless many more besides.
It is surely not a spoiler to reveal that this ends, inevitably, on a poignant note. Two unhinged individuals militantly railing against the society they inhabit is a storyline that is not destined for success. Ultimately the film, like its subjects, is an intelligent, passionate and desperate scream against the degeneracy of American society – there are no solutions posed for this crumbling civilisation, other than a physical struggle. The cliché cannot be avoided; this is a ‘Must-See Movie’.
Sebastian Clare has a Master’s Degree from University College Dublin, and is a freelance writer and broadcaster.
God Bless America (2012)
Director Bobcat Goldthwait
Screenplay Bobcat Goldthwait
Producer Jeff Culotta
Director of Photography Bradley Stonesifer
Art Director Natalie Sanfilippo
Costumes Sarah de Sa Rego
With Joel Murray (Frank), Tara Lynn Barr (Roxy), Mackenzie Brooke Smith (Ava), Melinda Page Hamilton (Alison), Rich McDonald (Brad)
Runtime 105 minutes