Anyone who’s had their fill of the increasingly shallow buffet of American culture will find it easy to relate comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s (Shakes the Clown, World’s Greatest Dad) no-holds-barred, sacred cow-barbecuing satire that targets everything from our increasingly shallow pop culture to bad manners. It takes the shotgun approach — literally so in some scenes — but scores only a few direct hits.
Joel Murray (Mad Men) stars as Frank, a recently divorced office drone whose daughter is a spoiled brat, whose neighbors are noisy self-absorbed jerks, and whose co-workers are vapid idiots. It’s no surprise that he puts a gun in his mouth shortly after he winds up unemployed and diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in the span of one afternoon. The epiphany he has before pulling the trigger is a bit unexpected, however: Having spent too many nights watching too much reality TV and fear-mongering newscasts, Frank decides America is a decadent civilization on the decline. Why not punish some of them for it?
Frank decides to lash out at the embodiment of his disdain: a reality TV teen starlet (Maddie Hasson) who pitches a fit when daddy buys her a Lexus for her birthday instead of an Escalade. During his awkwardly executed hit on the tweenzilla, he inadvertently acquires a sidekick — teenage misanthrope Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who encourages Frank to take down other deserving assholes, and to let her tag along while he does it. The duo go on a cross-country killing spree, targeting TV pundits, bigoted religious zealots, bad parents, people who talk during movies, and everyone associated with an American Idol-style singing competition.
Goldthwait’s belly howl against all that is wrong with the world today is a uncomprising work — he spares no one and refuses to cop-out with a tidy ending. He also meanders a lot, and often paints his diatribe in broad strokes and simple terms. Sometimes he trips himself up, as when Roxy, more interested in wasting the aesthetically challenged, delivers a well-argued rant against Diablo Cody, then slips into a gushy monologue about the brilliance of Alice Cooper that sounds like something the Juno writer might have written herself.
It’s rough edges add to the movie’s appeal, and as an assault on all that is annoying about everyday life and the miasma of lowest-common-denominator media that increasingly defines it, God Bless American is a much-needed catharsis.