With this latest effort from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait serving as a black comedy dissection of modern US life, it’s only fitting that our protagonist, Frank (Joel Murray), should reflect that life at its most average. His job is average, his home is average and, as far as relationships go, he’s part of an ever increasing norm – a divorced father who passes his time alone.
On a typical evening, he has two options; listen to the inanity of his neighbours through the walls, or switch on the television and both are enough to inspire violent escapism. Because whether it’s right wing news pundits displaying cartoons of Obama in Nazi uniform, or a nation’s joint mockery of a mentally ill talent show contestant, Frank often feels like he’s the only one objecting. After all, as a voice on his car radio insists, the media’s “just saying what we’re all thinking”, right?
Usually able to restrain his public anguish to the occasional workplace debate, it’s only when Frank is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour and fired for workplace harassment in quick succession that he decides he has nothing left to lose and takes up arms. He soon finds comradeship with a teenager named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a young girl keen to aid Frank in the destruction of those most deserving.
With the film excelling in its distressing (and not overly exaggerated) portrayal of the American media, there’s definite enjoyment to be found in the duo’s rampage. If you’re bored of reality TV, repulsed by Fox News or even just aggravated by people who talk in the cinema, chances are you’ll find some laughs here. True, there are moments where the satire feels blunted by the sheer level of wish fulfillment on show (it’s very easy to imagine that this is all just one of Frank’s fantasies), but it remains a fun ride all the same.
Yet where God Bless America doesn’t fully convince is in Frank’s early lack of kindred spirits – you know, before all the guns. Indeed, though the film’s descent into violence bears shades of both Falling Down (1993) and Super (2010), there’s also apt comparison to be made with Sidney Lumet’s 1976 newsroom satire, Network. Just as that film shows enraged anchorman Howard Beale’s anti-commercial rants thrust him into the ironic position of TV’s biggest star, there’s no reason to doubt that Frank’s outrage would have its supporters. After all, if the sentiment shown in God Bless America were entirely new, it’s difficult to imagine we’d be laughing.