If George Carlin was still with us, he’d probably applaud Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy “God Bless America,” for its scathing social commentary and its radical approach to cleaning up American culture. Not only did Carlin have distaste for idiotic attention seekers, but he challenged Americans to think critically and to hold themselves to higher standards.
Goldthwait’s America is very much like our own, where outrageous reality shows dominate the spotlight. On his fictional programs “Tuff Girls” and “American Superstar,” selfish individuals insult and humiliate one another for 15 minutes of fame. Instead of denouncing this behavior, viewers embrace it, laughing by the water cooler at the misfortune of others.
In his standup special “You are All Diseased,” Carlin joked that instead of protecting inept people, we should let natural selection weed them out, an idea that Goldthwait’s main character Frank (Joel Murray) decides to artificially accelerate.
Frank is down on his luck at the opening of the film: he’s divorced, he lives alone, and he suffers from head-splitting migraines. He stands teetering on the ledge of sanity, until he loses his job and finds out that he’s terminally ill.
With nothing left to lose, Frank resolves to clean up society as his last “good” deed. He does this by killing the attention grabbing morons on television and anyone who is unapologetically selfish. On his journey Frank meets a 16-year-old girl named Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr), who feels just as angry about the deterioration of American culture. The pair joins forces, embarking on a comical homicidal spree to prove to Americans the error of their ways.
Murray is the perfect cranky curmudgeon; just like Carlin he is unafraid to sternly share his expletive-filled opinions with his peers. His Frank is an old school patriot, who similar to Carlin, believes people should think for themselves, and aspire to greater standards. Frank also shuns cell technology like cell phones and video games because they distance us from each other. When his young companion talks about documenting their adventures with pictures he chides “Why don’t you take a picture with your head camera.”
The primary reason that this brilliant dark comedy works so well is writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait. His dialogue is razor sharp, taking witty stabs at overrated shows like “Glee” and films like Diablo Cody’s “Juno.” Goldthwait doesn’t attack all popular culture though; his characters share an amusing appreciation for things like the original “Star Trek” and glam rocker Alice Cooper.
Goldthwait’s best attribute as a writer/director is his willingness to push the envelope with outrageous satire. He’s not above making dead baby jokes and using ridiculous amounts of gore to turn some of the movie’s most grotesque moments into hilarious ones.
The only noticeable flaw with Goldthwait’s “God Bless America,” is that his commentary feels a bit dated, since he wrote the screenplay a couple years ago. Despite his parody of slightly older shows, the core message still applies today. If you consider yourself a cynic, who despises reality television and prefers nostalgia over current popular culture, then you’ll have a blast with this film. “Jersey Shore” and “American Idol” lovers need not apply.
My Grade: A-