God Bless America Review: Irreverent and Bold Social Satire

[rating: 3.5] Bobcat Goldthwait has made a solid career out of shocking the Hell out of us, and his last…

Shaun Munro


[rating: 3.5]

Bobcat Goldthwait has made a solid career out of shocking the Hell out of us, and his last effort, World’s Greatest Dad, wound up being one of 2009’s great gems. While in that film Goldthwait trained his focus on the crass, disingenuous nature of posthumous cults of celebrity, here he shoots (no pun intended) for something broader, but still immensely satisfying – a stupid world full of stupid people, whose minds have been dulled by stupid television.

The opening scene, a dream sequence in which sad sack protagonist Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) fantasises about murdering his boisterous neighbours, culminates in him reducing their crying baby boy to a bloody stain on the ceiling by way of a pump-action shotgun. It is precisely at this point that you’ll know whether or not the film is for you. Those who have enjoyed Goldthwait’s other shockers will ostensibly find themselves at home.

The director lines up a broad set of targets which denote America’s cultural devolution – hateful Conservative fear-mongers, mean-spirited TV talent shows, shock humour, ghastly reality-TV and the self-entitled people who partake in it – and then opens fire on them in what is an angry, vocal shooting gallery of a film. This vengeance comes at the hands of Murdoch who, following a ridiculous dismissal from his job and a grim cancer prognosis, has had enough. A young social outcast high school student, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), invites herself along for the ride, much to his protest.

More so than his other features, Goldthwait’s fourth film has no aspirations to subtlety; his protagonist rants and raves, though it suits the cantankerous middle-aged man at the center, perfectly played by superb character actor (and brother of Bill) Murray. What differentiates this from other vigilante classics like Falling Down is its addition of a wily accomplice, played with equal exuberance by promising young actress Tara Lynne Barr. Their chemistry, combined with some savage ultra-violence and an intelligent lamentation of an eroding culture makes for an incendiary mix.

The odd couple’s murderous road trip is filled to burst with enraged energy, moving from target to target while occasionally stopping to examine the duo’s personal issues – Frank’s terminal cancer, and Roxy’s strained home life. However, their differing views – of the young, acerbic teen who thinks Twihards and Diablo Cody deserve a death sentence, compared to his, which paints more socially relevant targets – inevitably makes for a little tension.

And of course, in true Goldthwait style, he goes the full measure of impropriety, generating some bizarre sexual tension between the two, albeit one-way, transmitted from Roxy to Frank. It feels vaguely reminiscent of Luc Besson’s Leon, though suffused with its own comment on the overt sexualisation of children in our society. Their relationship avoids going the truly dark route, instead opting for something sweeter, depicting two outcasts who find in each other something real, even if that means a mutual interest in riddling assholes full of bullets. In its own odd way, it is quite touching.

Just when it begins to feel like the pair might run out of people to kill, some inevitable twists and turns shakes things up, carrying it through to the bloody finish line. That they brandish an AK47 in their final stand – the universal symbol of the perceived freedom fighter – is hilarious and all too apt. There is only one way it can end, and Goldthwait doesn’t chicken out – rather, its gory climax only heightens the punchiness of not only the characters’ mission, but the film’s also.

While veering occasionally into the transparently rhetorical, Goldthwait mostly knocks it out of the park. Go for the spot-on rant about Diablo Cody, but stay for the chaotic, vital commentary on a noxious cultural milieu.

God Bless America is on limited release from Friday.