Frank (Joel Murray) sees nothing around him apart from the collapse of American society. Television is saturated with reality shows that exploit stupidity and glorify shallowness. The nightly news reports little apart from stories of murder and mayhem. Conservative political talk shows have devolved into cruel, bigoted gusts of hot air. People in general, namely his coworkers and neighbors, have become apathetic and stupid; genuine conversation has been reduced to mindless chatter about the latest celebrity scandal. His ex-wife, Alison (Melinda Page Hamilton), has custody of their daughter, Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith), who has become a whiny brat. Making matters worse, he has just been fired from his job at an insurance company, simply because an innocent gesture of kindness was misinterpreted as sexual harassment. To top everything off, he’s shown that he has an inoperable brain tumor.
He prepares to commit suicide in front of his television set. But then a reality show starts. It documents the life of a spoiled teenage girl named Chloe (Maddie Hasson), who throws all kinds of hissy fits as she nears her sixteenth birthday party. With a newfound sense of motivation, Frank decides to go cross country and murder the pop culture icons whose selfishness, impoliteness, and ignorance contribute to America’s downfall. He steals his rude neighbor’s sports car, stakes out Chloe just outside her school, handcuffs her to the steering wheel of her car, and, when stuffing a flaming white cloth in the car’s gas portal fails, blows her brains out all over the windshield. This is witnessed by a teenager named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr); rather than report Frank to the police, she instead insists that they team up and go on a murder spree, to which he agrees. A latent homicidal maniac, Roxy’s list of people she hates is arbitrary and long.
Essentially this generation’s answer to Falling Down, Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America is a profoundly wrongheaded political and social satire. Although it correctly and accurately addresses America’s failings, it offers a solution so venomous and morally reprehensible that it surpasses mere parody and becomes a full-blown case of cinematic intolerance. What disturbs me deeply is that the audiences who see this film are likely to see past this and venerate the character of Frank as an antihero. In reality, he’s a hypocrite; he laments about a lack of personal responsibility in this country, never once taking into account that, by murdering rude and annoying TV personalities for corrupting society, he is himself shifting the blame to someone else. It’s not their fault America is the way it is. It’s the fault of each and every individual that continues to watch, therefore creating a demand and perpetuating the problem.
Other people fall victim to Frank and Roxy’s countrywide reign of terror, including movie-theater patrons who laugh at all the wrong places and talk on their cell phones, a mean-spirited conservative talk show host, and several vile religious picketers who are obviously modeled after the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. As they prepare to take out the three judges of an American Idol-based reality show, who Frank feels have been needlessly exploiting an untalented William Hung parody, they make plans to “go legit” and move to France. It would be more accurate to say that Roxy makes plans for it, as she’s desperate to move to a country that “hates America” as much as she does. Dear God, but the tirades this girl goes off on are annoying and unwarranted. According to her, people who do high-fives should be killed, as should those who misuse the word “literally,” those who turn “rock star” into an adjective, the cast of Glee, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Diablo Cody. But don’t even think about insulting Alice Cooper in front of her. Of all the people in world, he’s the real deal?
Let me speak from the heart for a moment. I agree that most reality TV shows are pointless and exploitative wastes of time. I agree that we’re needlessly inundated with celebrity gossip and that intelligent conversations are a dying art. I agree that certain conservatives have allowed themselves to become spiteful hatemongers. I agree that movie audiences have by and large become disrespectful. I agree that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are the scum of the earth. I agree that there is much that is wrong with America. But taking out unsavory people in a blaze of gunfire is not the answer. These problems persist only because we give them that power. If you don’t like what passes for television these days, simply turn it off. Nobody is forcing you to watch. Read a book, or select a movie or an album that suits your personal tastes, or take up a hobby.
Before you start leaving behind angry comments, yes, I’m well aware that God Bless America is a satire and not intended to be taken at face value. But all satire stems from very real aspects of society. To even joke about murdering people in cold blood, even if they happen to be jerks, is downright appalling. And what of that, anyway? Goldthwait is so eager to condemn an entire society that he never once stops to examine or even consider the individuals who are genuinely good. He may be right in that some Americans are incredibly rude, but he’s dead wrong in his belief that rudeness is a condition the entire country is afflicted with. I don’t think he intended this movie to be a rallying cry for change. I think it was meant to belittle our very existence. We have no value in his eyes. He has devised a final solution, namely that we should all be wiped out. You have no idea how depressed I am right now.