God Bless America (2011)

2015 #37
Bobcat Goldthwait | 100 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

God Bless AmericaMad Men’s Joel Murray is Frank, a glum divorcee whose indulged daughter refuses to see him, who loses his job, and who is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Already fed up with the state of modern society, he sets about righting some wrongs. With a gun. He soon encounters Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a disillusioned teen only too keen to join his murderous crusade.

Starting with a montage spoofing the dregs of US television, the satire initially seems a little broad… but it’s also remarkably accurate, so really it’s the fault of modern US ‘culture’ for being so inherently ridiculous. In some respects this sets the tone for the entire film: on the surface, a little too ridiculous, but that’s masking a witty comedy and surprisingly truthful character piece.

The latter is where the film’s most consistent joys are to be found. It’s carried by the charisma of the two leads; they’re a joy to spend time with, even if you for some reason objected to their righteous crusade. Of course, there is amusement elsewhere too. The violence of the killing spree is sometimes graphically depicted, but it’s all to humorous ends, in one way or another. The often-OTT tone is set early on with a particularly bloody and unacceptable murder fantasy, which may alert you to whether you’ll enjoy the film or not — it will be too much for some — but to say what happens would be to spoil it slightly.

However, the strongest vein of humour always comes from the quieter scenes where Frank and Roxy just talk. Murray has been an underrated presence in Mad MenGot herself a guna supporting character who’s come and gone over the years, initially seeming one-note but revealing more in more recent seasons — but here you get that kind of arc condensed into 90 minutes. Barr is every bit his equal, the pair forming a genuine if sometimes complicated bond. That it acknowledges but dodges the whole “mid-life-crisis man and teenage girl” iffiness is further to its credit.

God Bless America treads familiar ground, in a way: the pair on a killing spree thing; the man driven to kill by society; even the heavy satire of American culture’s extreme awfulness (also pilloried in a much weaker, even more obvious fashion in Idiocracy, for example). The film works, though, because of its commitment to the characters and its story, because of the commendable excess in the way that’s depicted, because it’s genuinely funny, and because of the charm and chemistry of its two leads. Highly recommended.

4 out of 5

God Bless America is on Film4 tonight at 11:05pm.