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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
Guns blazing, absurdist America attacks
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Guns blazing, absurdist America attacks

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Frank (Joel Murray) is fed up. The lonely divorcé has had enough of his loudly obnoxious next-door neighbors, with his coworkers' inability to speak in anything other than recycled platitudes from right-wing radio and liberal TV. He can't stand supercilious 'reality' shows where talent isn't so much celebrated as the lack of it is ruthlessly laughed at and the clueless are set up for ridicule. He hates it all and is sad that people no longer communicate with one another and that simple niceties are apparently a thing of the past.

On the same day he's fired from his job for speaking from the gut, Frank learns he's terminally ill. With nothing left to live for, he says goodbye to his selfishly materialistic little girl Alison (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) and heads out into the urban wilderness to right a few wrongs before putting a bullet in his own head. But after permanently canceling a teenage reality-TV star in her high school's parking lot, Frank comes across Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a student who sees potential in the older man's bloodletting.

What happens next in God Bless America you have to see for yourself. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (World's Greatest Dad) has unleashed a brutally bloody satire on modern times that is as merciless as it is hysterical. The movie takes literal potshots at everything from our obsession with Kardashian-type celebrity, shows like 'American Idol,' 'news' personalities like Bill O'Reilly, and idiots who use their mobile devices in movie theaters. Much like Super, the movie is a brazen middle finger to the status quo.

When it works, it soars. The early sequences where Frank is dealing with his coworkers, his daughter, and his neighbors start things out on a major high. It culminates when he comes across Chloe (Maddie Hasson), a spoiled teenage rich-witch who has been made a star by one of those obnoxious MTV reality shows like My Sweet 16. What he does to her is so out of left field, so completely unexpected yet so perfectly realized, I almost squealed. Frank goes to a place of cathartic mayhem so inexcusable it's sensational.

Goldthwait can't maintain this tone throughout the film, and even at a relatively brief 100 minutes there are some pacing issues, especially during the all-important third act. It's also difficult to know what to make of Roxy, and as great as newcomer Barr is, her persona and her ephemeral reasons for latching onto Frank border on creepy. Finally, while Goldthwait's satirical brush is fairly broad, he hits some pretty obvious targets, making the final destination nowhere near as shocking as it could be.

Murray is close to perfect here, his sad-sack persona fitting Frank like a tailored suit. His journey is one you can believe and relate to - which makes his leap into ultraviolence all the more disturbing, yet still understandable. There are times he made me relish the fact he was pulling out his gun with intent to shoot, and like the best satire he made me more uncomfortable residing in my own skin then I care to admit.

While it doesn't all work, and while the outcome is really never in doubt, Goldthwait gleefully pushes buttons lesser filmmakers wouldn't dare touch. What he's saying holds resonance, and while the taste on display isn't exactly kosher, if one is in the right frame of mind it's still pretty darn easy to swallow. God Bless America comes out with guns blazing, and even if its bullets don't all find their marks, the majority strike right next to the bull's-eye.

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