Today: February 22, 2024
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God Bless America

Divorced, alone and depressed, Frank (Joel Murray) is having a very bad day.

Divorced, alone
and depressed, Frank (
Joel Murray) is having a very bad day. He’s been unjustly fired
from his job after 11 years and his doctor’s just told him he’s terminally
ill. His daughter wants nothing to do with him, his neighbours are
selfish morons and he’s sick to his stomach of the world around him, of the
dumbing down of society, the celebration of mediocrity.

On the brink of suicide, Frank is saved by the one thing he
hates most: reality television. Just as he’s about to blow his brains
out, he finds himself watching a My Super Sweet 16-style TV show
featuring rich, loathsome teenager Chloe (Maddie Hasson) and decides
that before he checks out he’s going to take out some trash; he’s going to kill
the worst, the rudest, the cruelest, the most obnoxious, the most repellent,
the most uncivilized members of society. And he’s going to start with
Chloe.

However, Frank’s execution of the obnoxious teenager is
witnessed by Chloe’s classmate, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares his
disgust with modern American society and forces him into accepting her as his
disciple/partner-in-crime. Like a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde (Roxy even buys
them similar hats; a fedora for him, a beret for her), the mismatched duo set
off on a cross-country murder spree, killing homophobic ministers, right-wing
talk show hosts, reality TV stars, people who talk during movies…their rampage
finally culminating in their invasion of the live final of an American
Idol-style talent show being broadcast across the country.

If you’re a new parent or are particularly squeamish, maybe you
should give God Bless America a miss. In the opening
scenes, as a combination of blinding headaches, insomnia, reality television
and next door’s squealing baby causes our protagonist’s sanity to unravel,
Frank does something so jaw-dropping, so transgressive, so downright wrong you’ll either
storm from the cinema in disgust or you’ll be left gasping and weak, snorting
with shocked, guilty laughter. Best stay in your seat otherwise you may
miss the blackest black comedy to come out of America in decades.

The plot may be paper-thin and its riffs on popular culture and
the state of our society may feel a little like disjointed stand up routines
(in fact, director Goldthwait has used some of this material in his stand up
gigs) but God Bless America is a scabrously funny, raging howl
of despair at what we’re becoming. Frank may be watching fictional shows
like Tuff Girls where two arguing reality TV stars remove and throw their used
tampons at each other or talent shows like American Superstarz where the judges
exploit the vulnerable and disabled but take a look at shows like The Only Way
Is Essex or the X Factor and ask yourself: just how wide of the mark is Goldthwait? A dancing dog
named Pudsey won this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. More people voted for
him than for our current Prime Minister. A dancing f**king dog! What more proof do you
need that Rome is burning and the barbarians are at the gates?

As
our May to December heroes, Joel Murray (younger sibling of Bill) and Tara Lynn
Barr are excellent. He’s a fundamentally decent man who’s had enough,
she’s a motor-mouthed, potentially sociopathic teenager (but what teenager
isn’t a sociopath). Juno with an AK47 even if she hates Diablo Cody with a passion.
Their victims may not deserve to die but do they deserve to live? Frank
and Roxy’s reaction to the worst aspects of our culture may be a little extreme
but be honest; who among us has never fantasised about walking onstage and
machine-gunning Simon Cowell? Goldthwait’s biting, razor-sharp satire
taps into the impotent rage and frustration we’ve all felt in the face of
humanity’s increasing inhumanity. He’s not condoning the urge to shoot
that cinema-goer sat behind you who talks and texts their way through the
movie; he’s just acknowledging it

As
Frank says to one of his co-workers: “Why have a civilisation anymore if
we no longer are interested in being civilised?” Sharp, funny,
caustic and courageous, God Bless America is a rallying call for everyone who’s ever found
themselves wondering just what the hell the Kardashians are for?

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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