Joel Murray (“Mad Men,” “Dharma and Greg”) plays Frank, an insurance-company employee who struggles to connect with his spoiled daughter Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) even as he desperately tries to block out the rest of the world around him. Suffering from migraines, noisy neighbors and assaultive television programming at night, Frank unleashes his frustrations to nimrod coworkers from his office cubicle until he gets terminated for accessing employee files in order to send an unhappy receptionist a bouquet of flowers. But after discovering that he has simultaneously been diagnosed with a brain tumor, Frank succumbs to the onslaught of terrible behavior he sees everywhere around him and decides to assassinate a bratty teenage TV “star” named Chloe (Maddie Hanson) whose reality show documents her outrage over receiving the wrong kind of SUV for her 16th birthday.
Witnessed by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), one of Chloe’s classmates, Frank flees the scene of the murders and awaits apprehension by the police. But after Roxy shows up and compliments him for offing the girl, the two of them go on a cross-country journey imposing social, well, if not justice, then revenge, retaliating against a world's values they believe to be spectacularly out of whack, if they exist at all.
Moreover, it is truly a revenge fantasy – a metaphor for the exasperation and impatience of people who still maintain values like sensitivity, thought and moderation – so when Frank and Roxy start picking off teenagers in a theater for talking loudly and using their cell phones, there’s something at once satisfying by the comeuppance they deliver, and something entertainingly unreal about it. Of course, Goldthwait might be articulating a feeling he actually has to take out some of the mouth-breathers who steal two spaces in a parking lot or behave lasciviously for no apparent reason, but as someone who admittedly shares a lot of the values Frank does – such as, why can’t people be nicer to one another? – this writer didn’t see any sincere advocacy for someone to take up the character’s cause and dish out capital punishment, even against folks like the members of Westboro Baptist Church who protest at dead soldiers’ funerals.
While the film has an indisputable left-leaning sensibility –- insofar as “the truth has a liberal bias” – “God Bless America” manages to be mostly nonpartisan, although Frank and Roxy do target a Sean Hannity-Glenn Beck type, and even then their argument for killing him is, “why do you have to be so mean to people who come on your show?” Indeed, its focus is on the betrayal of simple, humanistic values, such as kindness, consideration, and personal responsibility, and it certainly offers an unflattering portrait of contemporary entertainment, that wasteland of valueless depravity. In fact, at a certain point it stops being funny, mostly because you’re either absorbed into the characters’ crusade or repulsed by it, but also because there’s simply too much truth in its story – for good or bad -- to simply take it in as casual, or even purely mean-spirited entertainment.
Having endured an exasperating conversation with someone inflexibly opposite to my political thinking immediately before watching this film, “God Bless America” was an odd and unexpected salve – a reassuring reminder that there are people who value basic human decency and consideration of others, albeit articulated through the angry voice of a person who would not accept the crude indifference of “fuck you” for an answer. Though it’s a small film, Goldthwait’s latest is a big accomplishment, and it puts him on a plane alongside some of the movies’ best satirists and social commentators, balancing humor with substantial insight and easy outrage with more difficult truth. All of which is why despite its deep-rooted disappointment in the worst humanity has to offer, what’s most special about “God Bless America” is that it’s weirdly, and honestly, an optimistic movie: although there’s so much terrible stuff out there to disappoint and demoralize us, it’s the determination to be our better selves that keeps us going, and always less because of the worry we can’t live up to that standard than the hope that we eventually will. [B+]