A spoiler-free writeup
God Bless America is a very black satire of contemporary America directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. In many ways it comes off as a cathartic comedy where the hero does what many of us would secretly like to to people who are chronically cruel, selfish and downright rude. It has been compared to Falling Down, where Michael Douglas played a man driven over the edge who acts out in violence at people who are wicked but not criminal. Unlike the earlier film, God Bless America is often laugh out loud funny, often busting a gut at deeds we probably shouldn't laugh at. The subject manner and the little lectures make it also seem as a slightly preachy morality play. It is that and far more. Goldthwait is operating on multiple layers, and nothing is exactly as it appears, which makes the film more then worth seeing.
Joel Murray plays Frank. He's approaching middle age, divorced and is a mid to lower-level employee at a bank. His neighbors are utterly rude and self absorbed. Every night he sits alone flipping channels looking for something worth watching. What he sees is the dark side of modern media and while a bit over the top, what he watches is nothing more then what we find on TV today. Charicatures of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the Westboro Baptist Church depress him for their constant meanness and contempt. And when he's not watching them he's looking at reality shows full of spoiled, self-absorbed egotists, indulgent parenting, 'extreme' as a buzzword and American's love of poking fun at people who deserve sympathy. People behaving badly are glorified in high definition. The constant meanness, superficiality and contempt repulses and depresses him, which he sees as a reflection of the world around him. Frank is deeply depressed and like many of us, fantasizes about killing those who act in such shallow selfishness. In a normal life, he might never act on these dark desires.
Then his life seems to fall apart. He's fired when an act of kindness is misinterpreted as sexual harassment because nobody does nice things like that without a motive. He learns he has a brain tumor. His spoiled daughter no longer wants to see him because he's 'boring'. Frank reaches bottom then snaps. At first he thinks of suicide, but at the last minute decides to act on his fantasies, and take a few jerks with him on his way out.
All of the above is made reasonably clear in the trailer. What makes the movie really work is Joel Murray's portrayal of Frank. Physically he's perfect, the sort of tubby man whom we all ignore on the street. His Frank is decent but ineffectual, totally alone in a world where he cannot have a meaningful discussion with anyone. He's a sociopath in his own right, but functional and vulnerable, with his goodness and darkness deeply intertwined. Murray's performance makes allows us to believe in Frank even while he does the most hideous things.
While killing a spoiled teenage girl who threw a hissy fit on TV because her parents gave her Lexus instead of an SRX for her sixteenth birthday, he runs into Roxy, herself a teenage girl who decides her classmate's murder is "the coolest thing ever". She wants to come with him, and believing her to be abused he lets her. Roxy is played by Tara Lynn Barr and she's sort of sociopathic Juno, though she'd never tolerate the comparison. She's clever, angry and in her own way ready for a starring role in Natural Born Killers. Her switch from teenager to psycho killer is jarring, and tough but Barr does a good performance. Roxy serves as Frank's Doctor Watson in carrying the story along. Roxy is herself a product of the media world Frank despises. Her early flirtations with him are innocent, and Frank keeps them this way. He'll involve a child in murder, but he won't touch her.
Their relationship is much of why the film works. She gives Frank what his real daughter will not, and they come to love each other in a platonic way. The film builds up to an expected climax in blood, but here is where the story takes on a new depth. Goldthwait twists the plot in some meaningful ways. Frank is in many ways what he hates, as is Roxy, and almost everyone in the film. Even we the audience are satirized as we laugh at things where we ought to be shocked, aided by the fact that we know the film is fictional. There are some long speeches, and you may read that they're heavy-handed lecturing and in some ways they are. But verbal explosions feel natural for a man who has had no outlet until that moment. Had Frank been granted a real verbal outlet he might have not felt the need to express his disgust with .45 caliber bullets.
God Bless America is a very funny, and very, very dark satire of America today. The film hits a crass, shallow and exploitative American mass media where it lives. But more importantly he reminds us that we are why the media is what it is. As Walt Kelly's Pogo once observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Bobcat Goldthwait has made a small gem here, one which sadly seems unlikely to do well at the box office. Which is why I hope people who read this will go.