Monday, 17 September 2012

God Bless America Review

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Year: 2012
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 105 minutes

God Bless America
I love films like God Bless America. I'm a sucker for dark satire and cultural commentary. I love films that mock pop culture, and expose the many flaws within it for our entertainment. When the trailer for God Bless America was released, I was naturally interested. I expected all of the aforementioned qualities that I enjoy to manifest themselves in this new film. I was bitterly disappointed. What I ended up viewing was a pathetic, extreme and somewhat perfunctory attempt at satirising modern culture. The film never really seems to know what it wants to be, switching from dramedy to borderline action flick at the drop of a hat. It seems that the characters are supposed to be likable, but they are the exact opposite. Good dialogue is wasted in an overall failed product, making the viewer frustrated that it hadn't been put to better use. This, and many other things, contribute to making God Bless America one of the most disappointing films of the year.

The story is, in a word, ridiculous. Middle-aged Frank works in an office. He is sick of the downward spiral of American culture and the seemingly decreasing intelligence of the American population. He is told by his doctor that he has an inoperable tumour in his brain. Frank plans to kill himself, but just before he does so, he is prevented by something he sees on television: a girl named Chloe on a reality TV show screaming at her parents because they got her the wrong car for her birthday. Delaying his suicide, he goes down to Chloe's high school, and handcuffs her to her car. Does he give her a long-winded rant about her wrongdoings? Does he attempt to open her eyes to the bigger picture? Does he try and show her how to be a better person? Nope, he shoots her in the face. The only witness to the murder (which I find very difficult to believe considering it happened directly outside a highly populated high school) is Roxie, a by-the-numbers withdrawn type of girl. "Did you just kill Chloe? Awesome!" she says, in the tone that one would use if they were describing a solar eclipse. This is where God Bless America begins, as Frank and Roxie go off and pump everyone they hate full of lead for no apparent reason.

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find it entertaining. It was rather amusing watching this pair blasting people away, simply because it was done in such a playful manner. However, it's clear that the film was trying to convey a deeper meaning. This is where it completely falters. As Frank and Roxie begin to list off their targets, one would expect rapists, abusers and maybe even robbers to be on the agenda. They would be incorrect. Instead, a man who takes up two parking spaces is gunned down without hesitation, as Frank and Roxie stride off with grins on their faces. Uh, okay. The only people in this film that Frank and Roxie hunt down that are even close to deserving such punishment are a crazy church group, obviously intended to parody the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Everyone else that is a victim of their deluded spree are seemingly irritating people, but in the case of most of them, their actions aren't even punishable by a kick to the nuts, never mind a bullet in the head. It's impossible not to feel that director Goldthwait's message is unnecessarily exaggerated in this film. Perhaps he thought this would benefit the film in terms of effect. He was wrong.

The first twenty or so minutes of the film are actually very impressive. Frank's rant to a colleague at the office about how people are exploited on shows such as America's Got Talent and The X Factor actually resonates and is delightfully relevant. In fact, pretty much everything up until the point where he meets Roxie is enjoyable enough. However, I'm not criticising the character of Roxie. It's their actions that make the film take a downturn. Tara Lynne Barr's turn as Roxie makes me very interested to see what else the young actress can offer. She has a certain unique disposition about her that is very fascinating, and she suited the role of this disturbed character very well. Likewise with Joel Murray. I don't think anyone else would have suited the role of Frank, but both main performers have been put in a film that offers them nothing more than bad attempts at cultural relevance and dark humour. It manages to point out flaws in culture, but doesn't deal with them well within the context of the film. It's full of plot holes and silliness. It's almost as if an operating police force does not exist in the world of God Bless America, as Frank and Roxie spend days killing people going largely undetected.

Overall, the film is just far too mean-spirited to be a success. It's almost as if Goldthwait wasn't even trying to make an effective film. The film is just one giant downward spiral into an unbelievably dumb conclusion that will leave a very small minority of people satisfied. The film has some strong aspects, but they are placed in a feature that is unsound and weak as a whole. The film is desperate to be meaningful, and just ends up being cruel and crass. In a consistently disappointing film, it's low point has to be a scene that takes place in a movie theatre, where a group of young people are among the first victims of the murderous duo. Why are they brutally gunned down? They didn't turn off their cell phones. Right.