I’m a big fan of movies where the characters take the law into their own hands. It satisfies that urge we all get at one point when dealing with stupidity. Films like Falling Down, which is an absolute classic, or my own personal favourite The Boondock Saints. They are linked with the superhero movie, or at least the amateur superhero movie, like Kick Ass. The level of enjoyment I find in these films is relative to how much I agree with the choice of victim. God Bless America makes me laugh, but there are a few problems with its tone.
Frank hates a lot of people, but mostly people who conform to some version of the stereotypical spoiled, ignorant and rude American. When he receives the news that he’s going to die from a brain tumor, he calmly snaps by killing the star of a “My Sweet 16” reality show. Young Roxy witnesses the murder and decides to tag along for the killing spree. It’s sort of like the father-daughter team in Kick Ass, only without any real badass-ness.
When Frank day dreams about picking up a gun and blowing his coworkers away, I am all for it. All they do is talk about the sort of shows I dislike, meaning all of reality TV. Then, when he goes off on his little rant about how society has lost its way – where did all the nice people go? – I got a weird double satire kind of feeling. I’ll explain along the way.
On one level this is simply a fun little story about two people shooting anyone they think is rude, or who they disagree with – either personally or politically. Anyone who is shallow seems to be their true criteria. Reality TV stars, political pundits, creepy truck-stop guys: the world is better off without all of them. Frank and Roxy are their own superheros, killing those whose crime against humanity is participating in the decline of American culture. But their reasons aren’t all that important on this level. It’s just an excuse to shoots some strangers while the law catches up with them, though unlike Thelma & Louise we get no sympathetic police officers who might secretly wish they could let them go, or better, join in.
The stereotype of Americans being ignorant and bigoted consumers of mindless entertainment exist for a reason: they are everywhere. They exist in their pure form, and their parodies probably outnumber them ten to one. The idea that America needs to go back to its roots, to find the nice, community spirit and get rid of all the stupid newfangled things like twitter, is of course laughable. That’s what we make fun of republicans for: wanting to lead America into the future of the 50s. On this level, Frank’s rants come off as a satire of this need. America isn’t actually stupider, modern technology has just given every idiot a potential megaphone (this blog being a perfect example). Frank could just turn off the TV, after all, and that’s what’s ridiculous and funny. There is, however, another level that creeps up on you.
On this level, with its provocative title, it might be an actual critique of American society. America has lost its way! Where did all the nice people go? At first it sounds like a Glen Beck parody, but the film goes out of its way to kill off an O’Reilly knock-off to make Frank politically neutral (he also agrees with the guys policies). The film’s tone make his rants seem like the sort of rant republicans think liberals think republicans make, if you managed to follow that. As an outsider, I get most of my American politics from reading too many blogs, newspapers and watching The Daily Show, to the point where I know the names of a dozen congressmen and senators – not to mention all the pundits! – but I couldn’t name the all the ministers in my own country. From my perspective, the movie feels like a parody of a parody, but it also feels like it takes itself seriously. It’s as if the double parodies cancel each other out, or the writer behind it all actually believes every word out of Frank’s mouth. The film tries to combat this with a quickly thrown in “seriously!?” or its equivalent at Frank’s absurd reasoning, but they are nothing against his convictions.
I suppose in a way that’s what makes the movie great. Frank is too convincing. This, however, makes him quite frankly a bit scary in my book, and my enjoyment suffers. Again, perhaps its my perspective, and hard nut jobs like Frank make me uncomfortable, especially with the recent news coverage in Norway that no one could avoid. Perhaps if the film had stuck to a simple “kill rude people” theme I might have been content, but the level of desperation in Frank to restore America is chilling, and the satire is lost on me. Reality TV and its ilk has killed America’s soul, he declares. Take it easy, I say, and just shoot the bastards!
Of course, he does shoot, and we do get enjoyment from it. Its a movie that probably depends on you being an American – its always more fun to laugh at your own country, I think. Joel Murray, who plays Frank, is the kind of actor I always like, but never really notice. That’s a shame, and I’ll definitely be putting him on my list. Tarra Lynne Barr, who plays Roxy, is a bit difficult to judge. Her bizarre enjoyment of killing without any psychotic tendencies is unrealistic, but that’s the whole point so you can’t really get close to her character. Had she been a bit more expressive, I think I would have loved to see her taking more of the shots, so to speak, in that her reasoning is more “just fuck shit up”.
When I first saw the trailer, I thought God Bless America would be Boondock Saints meets Kick Ass without the spandex. Instead, I find myself in the strange situation of trying to over-analyze a movie that sets itself up to be a lighthearted romp. Of course, the ultimate irony here is that if I were to simply enjoy the movie, I would be in danger of consuming mindless entertainment and land on Frank’s hit list. Or maybe that’s the whole point: that mindless entertainment can be good for the soul. Regardless of how seriously you take this movie – and in the end of course I don’t take it that way at all – you can at least enjoy a few rude people getting their comeuppance.
Dice roll: 3