God Bless America
2011, R, 105 min. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Rich McDonald, Larry Miller.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 1, 2012
Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait is on to something in his latest film as a writer/director. His hatred of the crass dumbing down of America is palpable in every frame of this film. Reality shows, two-faced blowhards, and their corporate sponsors are all in his crosshairs – quite literally. Goldthwait describes God Bless America as a "violent movie about kindness," and he has created a Howard Beale (of Network’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” fame) for our debased times. But instead of yelling and sticking his head out a window (or in an oven), Goldthwait’s antihero becomes a moral executioner and goes on a rampage. The problem with the film is that it starts at such a lethal pitch there is nowhere believable it can build toward.
The film opens promisingly – and quite amusingly – as Frank (Murray) is fired from his job and is rudely rebuffed by his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife. Next, his doctor informs him that he has a terminal disease. Frank's fantasies of murder turn real as he embarks on a one-man killing spree, that is until he's joined by teenage Roxy (Barr), who is even more bloodthirsty than he. Although several great speeches and hilarious one-liners goose the film, God Bless America nevertheless peaks too early and becomes rather one-note. It's a good note, but it ultimately has a clanging effect. Prolific character actor Murray is terrific as the film’s bewildered everyman.
This review originally ran on March 16 when God Bless America premiered at the SXSW FIlm Festival. The review has been expanded for reprint here.