SXSW Film Review: God Bless America

“What’s the point in having a civilization if we can’t be civil with one another?” That’s the question Frank (Joel Murray) asks his co-worker as morning water cooler talk discussing the previous night’s flame out American Idol-style contestant and why everyone is laughing at the obviously disabled would-be contestant. God Bless America is a take no prisoners scathing commentary on today’s extreme environment of either far right or far left politics and their accompanying hate speech, entitled kids and the parents that spoil them rotten into this sense, and all around obnoxious ass hats that deserve to be taught a lesson in kindness and civility. Oh, and if that opening wasn’t obvious; shitty reality TV.

When Frank finds out he has a tumor, he contemplates suicide after having lost his job just a few days earlier. He has grown tired of this life with TV that celebrates TMZ style celebrity worship and sells pig fart ringtones in the early AM. Frank is kept up by his degenerate neighbors whose child cries 24/7 as he attempts to cope with the migraines that the tumor is causing him. One night while watching one of those Super Sweet 16 style reality shows he reaches a breaking point and decides that he has had enough.

Frank watches as the bratty sixteen year old Chloe (Maddie Hasson) throws a fit due to her father giving her the “wrong” car for her birthday. As Frank watches this play out and he hears the screaming child next door he decides he can’t take anymore. Stealing the neighbor’s car he heads to Chloe’s high school and proceeds to blow her brains out.

The sixteen year old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) spins a tale to Frank that convinces him to let her join him on what she thinks is some kind of murderous rampage. Things aren’t always what them seem on the surface however and eventually this fantasy gets pretty real.

God Bless America is the fourth film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. I was a big fan of Goldthwait’s previous entry 2009’s Worlds Greatest Dad. Goldthwait has a voice that is right in tune with that which many Americans seem to want to hide and shy away from, while he puts it right front and center with every frame of his films. God Bless America, while gleefully taking down targets that are oft connected to the right-wing, Tea Partiers, and Westboro Baptist Church stand in, and a Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck stand in all meet their end in the film, it actually does well to not tun into a check list for those that lean left to laugh and applaud to. Rather I feel the message of the film is more one of kindness. Frank even states at one point in the film that it’s not that he doesn’t feel that those that spread this kind of hate speech need to be silenced but rather need to be more open to conversation. Instead of leading those that listen to every word they utter without a thought and guiding them as if they are blind sheep.

Credit has to be given as well to the two main performers in the film with Joel Murray’s Frank and Tara Lynne Barr’s first feature-length outing as Roxy. Murray is an actor you’ve likely seen dozens of times and the type of guy you’ll look-up on IMDB the moment you see him attempting to place where it was. Murray gives Frank an earnest and endearing demeanor that doesn’t make him look like a crazed psychopath once he decides to go down what ends up being the murderous path he chooses. He is a killer with a conscious but a zero tolerance level for indecency.

Tara Lynne Barr’s Roxy feels similar to characters we’ve seen the last couple of years here at SXSW. 2010 gave us Hit Girl from Kick-Ass, 2011 was Super’s Boltie. Roxy feels like a mix of those two. She hassles Frank to approve of her on a semi-sexual attractiveness level but Frank rebuffs feeling that the sexualization of young girls is one of the problems with society. Barr’s giddiness that she gives Roxy over her and Frank’s journey has an infectious impact on the viewer as the old soul character takes great joy in taking out those that annoy while Frank reels her in from becoming a cold-blooded killer.

Goldthwait mentioned in the post screening Q&A, and again in an interview (soon to be posted here at Lost in Reviews) that his point with the film was to wake up and serve as a kick to the usually apathetic left that complains about nothing being done. He’s certainly done that with God Bless America. That’s not to say I expect liberals to take up arms and start murdering those on the right but given the current environment a bit of temperance and perhaps considerateness and kindness of others willing to have an open an honest conversation about the realities of the world we live in might be in order. It’s a message I can certainly get behind.

I give God Bless America 4.5 Fuck Pies out of a possible 5

by John Coovert

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