God Bless America is meant to diagnose the dangers that the ever-mutating multimedia poses to our basic sense of morality. Bobcat Goldthwait is targeting the continually enraged white noise that seems to constitute much of America’s cultural discourse, which is born from an ever-increasing need on the part of various pundits, whether they be right-wing fanatics, political analysts, DJs, or reality TV stars, to sell pure sensation over substance in an effort to make an impact on a group of consumers who’re plagued by hundreds of opportunities for distraction per second.
Goldthwait’s everyman is Frank (Joel Murray), a sad sack who, in the tradition of Howard Beale, is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. Fired from his job, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, perpetually tortured by the mindless jabber of TV, as well as by anyone else who enters his orbit, Frank decides to eradicate the people in this country who contribute to the inhumanity that he feels largely defines pop culture. Frank roots a pistol out of his closet, and blows a snobbish reality TV princess’s head off right in the front of her high school. An equally disenfranchised teen by the name of Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr) admires Frank’s work and joins him on his killing spree.
Goldthwait’s premise is disreputably enticing. As a filmmaker, Goldthwait has always had a penchant for promising ideas that he botches with his proclivity for jokes that swipe at the lowest hanging fruit imaginable. God Bless America is mildly amusing for about five minutes (a reality TV parody that has a woman hurling a used tampon at a roommate is admirably tasteless), but Goldthwait isn’t exactly telling us anything we don’t know, and he seems incapable of considering the possibility that some people consume these disposable programs as a distraction without taking them seriously. In the world of God Bless America, everyone’s a zombie except Frank and Roxy.
That social generalization could work for satire, as satire isn’t, as it’s been famously said, supposed to have any friends, but Golthwait, contrary to his intentions, hasn’t made a satire here. Frank and Roxy aren’t seen with any kind of filmmaker’s distance and their hypocritical madness (i.e. they punish unkindness with murder) isn’t meant to be ironic. Frank is Goldthwait’s friend and probably his surrogate, an avatar that allows Goldthwait to vent his long stewing grievances against American mankind. God Bless America is the work of a crank that’s every bit as hateful as the bile it protests.
The film might still work if it was funny, but Goldthwait would appear to think his jokes are much greater than they actually are (the same could be said of his stand-up routines), and he offers some observations-posing-as-jokes here that are truly galling. At one point, Frank, launching a typically insufferable rant, denounces Vladmir Nabokov and Woody Allen as pedophiles, a speech that, as written and staged here, is an unforgivable act of hubris. There are swipes at Diablo Cody as a purveyor of hip, false teen empowerment that, while true, seem to ignore the obvious fact that Roxy herself represents an even creepier version of wish-fulfillment: the masturbatory fantasy of a bitter emasculated middle-aged man.
Watching God Bless America inspires pity for Murray, who gives as measured a performance as possible under the circumstances. Barr, on the other hand, is simply awful, playing right into the flamboyant hyperbole of Goldthwait’s script. In her defense, it’s difficult to imagine any actress getting anywhere with this role (maybe a young Tuesday Weld or Juliette Lewis). But performances hardly matter in this film anyway. This is Goldthwait’s show, and he’s essentially taking a hundred minutes to tell the youngsters to get the fuck off his lawn.
The image is serviceable and clean, emphasizing the bright primary colors that tend to characterize Bobcat Goldthwait's films. This Blu-ray isn't a feast for the eyes, but that's because the film, with its reliance on functional two-shots, isn't very attractive to begin with. The sound mix, though, offers a strong balance of details both minute and large, with a gunfight at the end that's impressively mixed considering the film's budget and low-exposure. Overall, this Blu-ray offers a fair presentation.
The extras are sometimes obnoxious but legitimately revealing of the filmmaker's intentions. The audio commentary, interviews, and behind-the-scenes featurette all essentially cover the same ground, primarily affording writer-director Goldthwait an opportunity to discuss his influences and intentions. Goldthwait mentions the Michael Douglas film Falling Down at one point and says that he wanted to avoid making a film about an angry white guy, which is exactly the film he made. Natural Born Killers is also disparaged at one point, implying that Goldthwait missed the point of Oliver Stone's best film. All that said, Goldthwait is refreshingly unguarded while discussing God Bless America, and the commentary is a leisurely and conversational tour through a variety of anecdotes that are mostly traditional to the making of a low-budget movie. The music video, extended scenes, and outtakes are predictable and skippable.
A frontrunner for worst film of the year, God Bless America is a bitter, unfunny diatribe masquerading as satire.