God Bless America

Americans love to watch television, but there’s rarely anything worth watching. The 24-hour news channels like to say how much they love America but seem to hate most Americans. Reality TV is frequently a showcase of the worst our culture has to offer, from spoiled rich kids claiming their lives are over because their parents bought them a luxury car in the wrong color, to people falling over themselves to do repulsive acts for money, to “performers” who are either too stupid to know or too shameless to care that they have to talent. Like people who watch auto racing just for the crashes, people clamoring for the worst of our society are contributing to its destruction. And if that’s not bad enough, not only do people lap up whatever television serves up to them, but they also feel the need to talk incessantly about what they’ve seen whenever there’s no screen around.

Frank (Joel Murray) is living in this hell. He’s been having headaches that have been keeping him up at night, and watching TV to help pass the time only seems to make things worse. He rarely gets to see his daughter since his divorce, but he has enough contact with her to know that she’s turning into just the kind of spoiled brat that he has come to hate on television. He hates his neighbors and his coworkers are idiots, but this latter problem is solved for him when he finds himself out of a job. And the hits just keep coming when his doctor informs him that his headaches are being caused by a brain tumor, for which the surgery to remove it is just as likely to kill him as the tumor itself.

And with that, he can’t take it anymore. He can’t stand the world he lives in, but also can’t bring himself to commit suicide. So the only logical choice that remains is for him to kill everyone that’s making the world a miserable place. He “borrows” a neighbor’s car and drives across the country to kill a whiny bitch in the wrong car her parents bought for her. And it feels good.

God Bless America certainly isn’t the first film to decry the fall of civilization and plead for change, and it has more than a little in common with other films like Network, Falling Down, and Idiocracy (although it doesn’t quite match the first two in quality or the third in comedy). However, it also feels the most authentic of them because it’s exactly a product of our times. When I saw this film at the Alamo Drafthouse, the real TV clips included in the pre-show entertainment are virtually indistinguishable from those featured in the movie itself, which helped give it a greater impact. This probably also means that God Bless America will quickly become outdated as the world progresses to ever lower forms of debauchery and stupidity, just like the kinds of things that caused women to faint at the beginning of the twentieth century are humorously tame by today’s standards.

While the film mostly takes the high road, there are a few gags that seem beneath it. For example, a late-night advertisement for a farting pig app seems more like the lowbrow fare of Idiocracy than a lot of the other TV clips that we’re shown, and the next-door neighbors exhibit a level of stupidity that’s not entirely realistic. These elements just don’t seem as funny as the more realistic scenes, and they drag the film down a little. But these are minor nits about an otherwise hilarious yet too-close-to-home movie that is another feather in Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial cap.