The way that God Bless America is structured allows you to understand perfectly just what it wants you to take from it. The first twenty minutes shows us the life in a day of a man named Frank (Joel Murray), who is divorced, has a kid who doesn’t want to spend any time with him, lives next to very noisy and inconsiderate neighbors, and learns on the day that we first meet him that he has a brain tumor so large that removing it would be just as dangerous as leaving it in. Oh, and he also got fired from his job because of “sexual harassment,” even though no such thing took place.
He’s a man who is going to lose it. He argues with people about how society is crumbling right around him, and nobody seems to care. He dreams about bursting into his neighbor’s house and shooting them all, making their baby explode into feathers and fake blood. Yes, we get to see this dream, and yes, it is glorious. If you’re already thinking that this is the film for you based on that, you should just go watch it right now, as nothing I say it going to dissuade you from still wanting to see it.
After these first twenty minutes of social commentary — including watching a number of commercials and television shows that will all make your face smack into your palm — we get to the real meat of the film. He heads to the school of one of the people who was on television, and shoots her. Yes, he just killed a 16-year-old girl. This grants him an adoring fan by the name of Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr, in what should be a star-making turn), who ends up joining him for the majority of the film. He’s going to tour across America, killing the people who deserve to die. She’s going to kill, too, and seems far more pleased when she does. They become “platonic spree killers.”
The next hour or so involves one of two things: Jack and Roxy will either talk about killing people they don’t like, or they’ll actually go do it. There is less murder in the film than you’d likely expect — there is still plenty, don’t worry — as there’s a lot more dialogue exchanged between the main characters than in a film like, say, Rampage, which was also about one man killing a ton of people. Or even Hobo with a Shotgun, for that matter, which was about one man trying to clean up the streets of a small town. The characters and their motivations actually matter, and are paramount in keeping our attention.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it reverts back to the first 20 minutes in terms of tone. It involves a monologue — an unbroken shot of Joel Murray looking directly into the camera to basically summarize what the film has been preaching for the last hour and a half. You can’t say that God Bless America doesn’t have a lot on its mind; it knows exactly what it wants to say and exactly how it’s going to say it. Sure, it’s kind of preachy, but I was fine with that in large part because the message is worth hearing, and also because the film around the message is so much fun.
The murders themselves aren’t terribly inventive, and if the film does lack one thing, it’s the budget to have really enjoyable action scenes. These two individuals have no trouble killing any of the people they target, and the only worry we have for them is whether or not the police will get them. They even make the mistake of getting their faces on the news — something Roxy is overjoyed about, reminding us of a younger Mallory — but they never seem in any real danger. This is more of a fantasy than anything else, and it plays out very much like it’s all happening in someone’s head. It isn’t, but it easily could be, if you catch my drift.
What surprised me most about God Bless America was how much time it did devote to the two leads sitting around and talking. They really do bond, and their relationship with one another becomes one of the film’s focal points. We actually begin to like these people, crazy as they likely are, and the film’s heart comes through at about the midway point. It isn’t just about killing the “mean” people in America’s society, and it’s that which makes it a better film than Rampage. I’d even call it better than Falling Down, although it has been a long time since I’ve seen that one.
I don’t know if you can call God Bless America terribly unique, as there have been a few films to take this basic idea. I’ve already named three of them, and if you want to count a reference to Natural Born Killers, you have a fourth. Roxy is very reminiscent of Hit-girl from Kick-Ass, at least in terms of demeanor and general attitude. It’s like a mash-up of a bunch of films within this type of genre, picking a slightly different target to satirize, and doing as much as can be done with a seemingly miniscule budget.
It works so well for the most part that it’s really easy to look over its flaws. In fact, looking back on the film, I can’t even really think of anything that I didn’t like. Maybe a couple of the jokes didn’t work. That sometimes happens in a satire/black comedy. And the fake blood was a bit more excessive than it probably needed to be. But that’s a stylistic choice by writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, and if he thinks the buckets of blood coming out of every dead body is necessary, then I’m not going to argue.
I had an absolute blast with God Bless America. It doesn’t feel really original — there are a bunch of “taking things into your own hands” kind of films — but it does everything that it sets out to do and only missteps a couple of times. The film is very satisfying, contains more character depth than you’d expect going in, and is really funny. It has a couple of lead actors who should get huge career boosts after they’re seen in their roles, and I can’t recommend it enough. This is a must-watch film.