Scheduled for a timely cinematic release on 4 July (US Independence Day) and one of the 66th Edinburgh Film Festival’s most talked-about films, Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America (2012) aspires to be a darkly comic ‘State of the Union’ address, a rebel yell against reality TV, consumerist teens and radical Christian evangelism. What we get instead is a crude and callous stand-up routine disguised as cinema, arguably as dense and one dimensional as the talent shows it so readily chastises.
After being fired from his hum-drum office job and diagnosed with terminal cancer all in the same day, nihilistic depressive Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) spends his days and nights watching inane television, drowning his sorrows with beer and fantasising about killing those that ‘offend’ him the most. After heading out for a spin in his obnoxious neighbour’s gaudy sports car, Frank meeting disenfranchised 16-year-old teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), and the pair join forces to take out the trash of America – by any means necessary.
Taking the form of a number of loosely connected, pop culture reference-heavy rants/lectures blended with scenes of hyper-realist violence against privileged teens, bigoted pastors and inflated celebrities, Goldthwait is extremely forthcoming with throwing his vitriolic bile up on screen for all to see. His points are occasionally valid, but almost always old-hat (apparently reality TV can have a negative effect on society), presented with little subtlety, wit or eloquence. What should be satire simply feels like an unveiled attack on Goldthwait’s own personal bugbears (including, bizarrely, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody).
Throughout, you get the constant sense that Frank isn’t a real person at all, but instead a mouthpiece for his director – which begs the question, why didn’t Goldthwait just cast himself in the anti-hero role? Barr is by far the more competent of the two performers, but there’s precious little to her character aside from a penchant for homicide. We’ve seen this type of murderous double act before in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) (and before it, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, which is referenced). What is missing with God Bless America is an intelligent script and any tangible sense of being at all cinematic.
Goldthwait certainly doesn’t pull any punches in his latest directorial endeavour, and that alone is admirable to some degree. However, by taking such a blankly nihilistic stance, we never truly understand the intended didactic; What Frank and Roxy are trying to protect? What it is exactly that they hold dear? For many, the only enjoyment to be taken from God Bless America will be in watching the deadly duo blindly tear there country apart.
The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 20 June-1 July, 2012. For more of our EIFF 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.