Re:View – ‘God Bless America’
Bobcat Goldthwait (he of the annoying voice in ‘Police Academy’ films) went on to become a fine director, with ‘Shakes The Clown’ (‘The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies’) and ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (a dark, smart late-period Robin Williams film), and for the first half hour at least, this tops them all as a homely schlub of an insurance agent surfs TV and finds himself assaulted by stupidity, cruelty and selfish celebrity-obsessed behaviour on all sides.The hate has rubbed off on his estranged daughter, well on her way to becoming a dreadful human being.
The blame is laid squarely at the feet of bottom-feeding TV, which in turn has bred appalling attitudes in the young, so Frank goes postal with teen sidekick Roxy, wiping out reality TV show bee-yatches and shock-jock right-wing TV presenters. In a welter of sharp one-liners, specific targets are pinpointed; the Westboro Baptist Church (a tiny group of bigots who gained some press coverage a while back) the terrible films of Diablo Cody, and ‘American Idol’ and Simon Cowell in all but name, but then something starts to go wrong.
For instead of expanding this bleak world-view to encompass the greater harm done by self-interested politicians, bankers and the broken capitalist system that’s creating such monsters, or by making the film smaller so that Frank has to either fix or kill his child, he and Roxy get stuck shooting people that simply annoy them, like kids who text in cinemas and guys who take up two parking spaces.
The problem with satire, of course, is knowing how to pick your targets, and it’s not Goldthwait’s fault that this one is simply to big to get a grip on. If the film had appeared during the Bush regime it would have felt more prescient, but by the time of its release the targets have already changed out of recognition, so there’s nowhere left for Frank to go.
Yet the screenplay does present Frank with a direction – he could have sorted out his vile, screaming selfish daughter, who is imitating the behaviour that daily surrounds her. There’s a brilliantly edited sequence showing one of the girl’s tantrums and matching it to the on-screen harridan she’ll become in five years’ time. But at the end we can only shrug and sigh that yes, TV entertainment does seem grotesquely at fault, but Frank’s solution – shooting everyone – requires that he becomes the sole arbiter of what’s right, and that’s not going to work either. Something smarter is required.
It’s still a terrifically energetic and invigorating piece of filmmaking, fresh and frequently hilarious. But it could have been so much better.