There are a lot of reasons why Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy “God Bless America,” is unsettling and uncomfortable viewing. Not just in terms how close it resembles current tragedies but in content. While Americans spend more and more time in front of their televisions, computers, and smartphones, it’s hard to attack viewing habits. Sure, films have taken this material on before but this is a hard, hard look at a how the media is being saturated with bottom-feeder entertainment, and how recognizing how bad things have come can drive a person insane.
Frank (Joel Murray) isn’t everyone. He’s that guy that seems like a cantankerous, bitter “old dude” who doesn’t fit in with the hip and trendy. He’s not “with it”. And while that might make you immediately dismiss his views on popular culture, he’s right. Pretty much about everything if you listen to him. Entertainment collapses into the gutter as the youth idolize the talentless and boorish. Becoming rich and famous for doing nothing is the new American dream. Frank decides that the purveyors and products of such a corrupted ideal deserve to die. He goes on a killing spree with the help of an impressionable teen, Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr) who relates to Frank’s hatred for everything stupid.
This is no happy-ending type film where anti-heroes learn the err of their ways. There’s no upbeat ending that promises America will get back on track with the right guidance or nudging. No, like reality TV, things don’t wrap up cleanly. The ugliness seems to reach a boiling point before collapsing onto itself.
“God Bless America” is a well-crafted, well-paced film that offers more laughs than most comedies and more gore than many modern horror films. The direction resembles that of quality television as opposed to something incredibly stylish and outrageous to match what it’s trying to say. However, it’s message is clear. If you popularize monsters, you will create monsters. If you create numbing entertainment, you’ll get a numb audience. If you show the worst in people for a profit, you will bring out the worst in people.
There’s been so much talk about whether violent films inspire violence. I would like to see the focus turn to reality television as well because it’s one thing when an imaginary character acts a certain way. Isn’t it potentially much more harmful to watch our neighbors act abhorrent to their fellow man?
Is it better to be sane in an insane world or do as the Romans do and hope you’ll never have enough perspective to know the difference? This is a good film. Dare I say a fun film to watch. There’s no getting around the message as it hits you like a sledgehammer. That’s perfectly fine with me.
Production year: 2011
Runtime: 105 mins
Directors: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Joel Murray, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Tara Lynne Barr