Title: God Bless America
Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
Extremely violent comedy is tough to pull off. Let’s say you’ve got a main character on a killing spree; how’s an audience supposed to sympathize with that? A good reason to kill couldn’t hurt, but generally there’s always a rift between that character’s thought process and an audience’s moral and God Bless America is no different. However, where writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait succeeds is where films like Super and Hobo with a Shotgun did not, in making the leads highly likable.
Frank’s (Joel Murray) got it rough. Not only does he have an obnoxious family with a constantly crying baby living next door, but friendly flirting with the office secretary gets him fired and he’s diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Frank opts to make a difference with his remaining days; Frank decides he’s going to eradicate everything that rubs him the wrong way, starting with Chloe (Melinda Page Hamilton), an over privileged teenager who throws a tantrum when her parents give her the wrong car for her birthday on a reality show.
After Frank blows Chloe away, her parents and friends are upset, but someone out there understands and appreciates what Frank did, one of Chloe’s classmates, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Roxy doesn’t just give him the thumbs up or, god forbid, offer him a high-five, rather she pleads to join him on his killing spree. Initially, Frank’s reluctant to take on a partner, but Roxy proves to not only share similar ideals, but is very willing to act on them.
Step one to making an absurdly violent comedy work? Get the audience on the protagonist’s side. God Bless America opens with an intimate look at Frank’s existence. In less than 15 minutes, Goldthwait offers up a solid sense of what Frank’s average day is like, not only establishing him as a generally likable guy, but making it so that when his norm is disrupted, the viewer feels it just as much as Frank. He’s the nice guy who gets the short end of the stick at every possible turn, so while his cancer diagnosis is a sad story, it almost feels good that the bad news lights a fire under him.
But what makes Frank’s turnaround work so well is that Goldthwait doesn’t give up the sad sap and turn to the trigger-happy renegade; there’s a calculated transition happening. Goldthwait doesn’t undermine the fact that Frank’s got cancer, allotting him some time to wallow and then using amusingly and disturbingly relatable events to pull him out of it. From there, Frank doesn’t knock on Chloe’s door and put a bullet in her head; he really thinks about it.
As funny and poignant as some of the material is up until this point, the fun doesn’t really begin until Roxy enters the picture. What a fantastic character! She could easily sustain her own feature. She’s absolutely off her mind, but is so honestly dedicated to Frank that it shows she does have a heart, which is all a viewer will need to root for her.
Goldthwait really couldn’t have found better leads. Murray’s got a perfect degree of innocence to him, but gives Frank just enough strength to make you believe he’s really capable of committing these atrocities. As for Barr, this girl needs more leading roles. Sure, she’s got the benefit of working with a wildly colorful character, but it’s Barr herself who really makes Roxy unique and alive. She’s sick and twisted, but there’s such a sense of sincerity and passion in everything she says, it’s easy to both laugh and oddly take her seriously. She’s an out-of-control character for quite a bit of the film, but Barr has no trouble whatsoever switching gears when necessary and putting the focus on how authentic Roxy’s relationship is with Frank.
On the technical side, there are a few instances where glimmers of a low budget creep in, but otherwise, Goldthwait nails just about everything. He gives the actors the spotlight rather than the camera, but knows exactly when to throw in a shot that says loads based on an extreme angle or other blunt technique alone. The music cues are spot on as are the edits, both of which do a great service to God Bless America’s tone.
When you hear a movie focuses on two people who run around killing with abandon, you think they’ve just got to be bad people, right? Well, that’s what makes God Bless America stand out. Frank and Roxy are ruthless murderers, but Goldthwait manages to do it in a way that doesn’t feel mean-spirited, but is funny, entertaining and even quite sweet at times.