Review: God Bless America
A Bullet in the Head Would Be Less Painful Than This Movie
By Tom Houseman
June 7, 2012
I have accidentally watched terrible reality TV shows before. I have been next to people watching Jersey Shore at the gym, or walked into a room in which my sister was watching Real Housewives, or fallen asleep to a movie on MTV and woken up to My Super Sweet Sixteen. And yes, those shows are obnoxious and vapid and represent American culture at its worst, so do you know what I do when I find myself in those situations? I turn off the TV, or leave the room, or ignore whatever the sweaty dude next to me is watching. Bobcat Goldthwait is not satisfied with those solutions, and has turned a rant about how stupid reality TV is into a movie that is far more obnoxious than any episode of any reality show ever, and not just because it is twice as long.
God Bless America is trying so hard to be important, to tell it like it is and tear down the artificiality and vapidity of American society, and pats itself on the back so hard you'd think it would fracture its spine. But perhaps the only people more irritating than people who are obsessed with the Kardashians are people who are obsessed with how much they hate the Kardashians, because they think that they waste so much time being angry about something sensible people are content to ignore. That is all that God Bless America is: a giant ball of anger about American Idol and entitled rich kids that never actually stops to think about what it is saying, but rather just turns off its brain and lets loose.
Goldthwait's last film was the superbly subversive dark comedy World's Greatest Dad, which was so effective because it intentionally made its audience uncomfortable. Great subversive art is supposed to challenge ideas and force its audience to think about things they would otherwise overlook. God Bless America essentially does the opposite of that. It seeks to indulge its audience, stoking their anger rather than challenging it. In that sense God Bless America is just as bad as any MTV or E! reality show, except that its target audience is on the opposite side of the spectrum. The film allows its audience to revel in their anger and applauds itself for what it thinks is cleverness. Goldthwait has created a feature-length rant about the shallowness and cruelty of our society, and yet the product is just as shallow, mean, and lazy as the objects of its vitriol.
Yes, it is easy to hate God Bless America for its overblown sense of its own importance, but those sins would almost be forgivable if the movie were funny or at least entertaining. But Goldthwait seems to be not as nearly interested in telling a compelling story as he is in ranting, using his protagonist Frank as a mouthpiece for his disgust with humanity. Frank gives, if I counted correctly, four lengthy diatribes, all of which say essentially the same thing, all of which make thoroughly obvious points, none of which are remotely amusing. Joel Murray gives a one note performance, and when I say that, I want you to actually imagine someone playing the same note on, say, the saxophone, for 99 minutes straight. That is how annoying Murray's grumbling and grousing get very quickly.
Frank's counterpart, Roxy, is an unusual variation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope - think Lolita meets Hit Girl - but she is still a character totally removed from reality. I started hoping that Roxy was actually a figment of Frank's imagination, because she is such an embodiment of what someone like Frank would wish a teenage girl would be, by which I mean bearing no resemblance to any actual teen girl. Tara Lynne Barr plays up Roxy's most obnoxious traits, and the only amusing part of watching her shout about how annoying a character like Juno is is that Roxy's dialogue is far more unrealistic than any cutesy slang that tumbled out of Ellen Page's mouth in that movie.
Really, the plot of the film is an excuse for the characters to kill thinly-fictionalized versions of people that Bobcat Goldthwait clearly thinks deserve to die. And I am certain that some people will mindlessly enjoy watching scenes of obnoxious teenagers being blown away, just as some people enjoy watching Snooki and The Situation. The main difference between God Bless America and The Jersey Shore is that Goldthwait thinks that he is making important points and saying what nobody else is willing to, and is far more concerned with being edgy than with plot, or character development, or attempting to uphold even the vaguest suspension of disbelief. The first two minutes of the film make the point very clear while being hilarious and shocking, and the next 97 minutes are content to continue hammering that nail until it has practically reached the earth's core. But did watching God Bless America make me want to kill Bobcat Goldthwait? No. All it did was make me want to stop watching God Bless America.