God Bless America

GOD BLESS AMERICA. Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne-Barr, Melinda Page, and Maddie Hasson. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Rated. MA15+. Restricted. (Strong violence and coarse language). 105 min.

This is a very dark film which satirizes American Society with black humour. It tells the story of Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray), an insurance salesman living on the East Coast of America, who feels acutely that America is losing its way, with its growing reliance on talk-back radio, the internet, and media-conscious pop culture. The film criticizes contemporary American society savagely for its rampant consumerism.

Pushed to the limits of tolerance, Frank wants to kill his neighbours, whose screaming baby keeps him awake at night, and he slips into depression, which is reinforced by life’s events. His wife, Alison (Melinda Page) has left him, and he has just been sacked at work on false harassment charges for accessing a fellow-employee’s personal file so that he could send her flowers to cheer her up. Further, a very unappealing doctor has told him (mistakenly) that he has terminal cancer.

Life becomes too much for Frank, and he goes on a killing rampage. After watching a reality show on television about a spoiled teenager, he decides to kill its star, Chloe (Maddie Hasson). Her murder attracts the admiration of Roxy (Tara Lynn-Barr), who is a class-mate of Chloe, and they come to a shared realisation that “stupid people deserve to die”. Roxy’s infatuation with what he has done tips Frank into serial killing, and together they start to rid America of all spreaders of hatred.

The disillusionment of Frank and Roxy is reminiscent of aspects of “Bonny and Clyde” (1967) and “Natural Born Killers” (1994). The mission of characters in both these films was to annihilate people perceived as irresponsible citizens. Frank and Roxy kill Chloe’s parents, a social commentator on television whose views “spread fear to the masses”, cinema-goers who talk and make phone-calls during movies, the stars (and audience) of glamour talent shows, and others who look particularly image-focused, or hold socially irresponsible opinions. The movie uses killing to offer satirical comment to indict American Society.

The movie’s outlandish violence captures the insensitivity and thoughtlessness of pop-culture and it takes a determined stance against extreme vulgarity and stupidity. Its anger is well-placed. However, it communicates its solutions through physical violence and aggression. Some killings are gothically gory in their detail, and one goes so far (albeit in imagination) to shot-gun blast a young baby with bloody results.

The morality of this movie is terrible. It argues for understanding and social deliverance through slaughter, and takes the viewer along for the ride. The comedy has something to say, but the way it delivers its messages is decidedly off-putting. The director of the movie, Bobcat Goldthwait, clearly has an axe to grind and the movie delivers its messages in a very confronting way. A particularly disturbing scene is the one where Frank and Roxy gun down people in a movie theatre when they behave objectionably. The scene makes its point about anti-violence by being violent, but it has tragic relevance to the July 2012 killings in a Colorado cinema, that screened “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).

It is arguable that this movie shocks viewers into a cognitively more sophisticated understanding of what makes for a better Society. It has good satirical moments that find their mark through some punchy scripting, such as Frank and Roxy’s conversations about need to counter meanness and the loss of kindness, but it chooses strong aggression all the time to reinforce its core messages.  

Faced with the question whether this is a film that offers dark arguments for decency, or is an aggressive endorsement of despair, this reviewer opts for the latter alternative. Despite its best intent, the movie is revenge-fantasy material.  

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Eagle Entertainment.

Out 23rd November, 2012.


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