REVIEW: "God Bless America" Showcases Entertainment And Morals
"God Bless America" tells the story of Frank (Joel Murray), a middle-aged man with a terminal brain tumour, and Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a sixteen year old girl sick of her mundane life, who take a road trip across the US to rid it of rude, annoying and repugnant people. While the premise might not be the most original, the film itself is refreshingly contemporary. True to Goldthwait’s notorious legacy, this black comedy/political satire raises new questions about the way we are living and uproots our ingrained thoughts and expectations regarding our society.
One cool thing about the film is its modesty. The characters don’t have flawless personalities. Frank often calls Roxy "Juno" for her attitude. She plans to go to France, thinking they’ll have French cheese in a French cottage with nice French people. Frank often tends to go into lengthy declamations that are rather creepy. This makes the message alienation-proof and as valid as ever, even perhaps enforced.
Another novel, lovable thing about this film is the way it tackles the question of ‘depth’ in a way rarely seen in cinema. Many films today have no depth at all, and others have so much depth on the surface that they ironically inhibit anything else underneath from coming out. In "God Bless America," the emphasis is not of revealing the characters and messages, but is on allowing the viewers to do so themselves. For example, a scene takes place in a thrift store where Roxy keeps nagging Frank to tell her whether she’s pretty. The dialogue that goes on between them is complex, yet very naturally. As if it witnessing it in real life, the viewer only gets a preview of what goes on in their minds, and is left to figure out the rest. It is like a dialogue from a Tarantino film, only more realistic and third-person.
The cinematography is great, with every shot angled ingeniously, in a sort of organic harmony with the scene. There is one in which the camera is zooming in on a crowd, and then suddenly, you spot Frank. It is as if the way the camera is maneuvered towards him allows for such blending and revealing. Then there are other creative scenes like when the camera moves up and down, nodding in agreement when Frank inquires whether it is on.
The soundtrack is amazing as well, ranging from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Kinks, and really helps communicate the various tones of the film. The contemporary selection also indicates what demographic the director is targeting.
In traditional black-comedy style, the violence is presented in a comic way, but manages to still leave tragic undertones in your system. Regardless, this film will no doubt satisfy the gore-mongers with black-jokes and entertainment, as well as viewers who prefer more meaning to what they watch. The "moral" of the film makes up for it anyway, which is presented in a targeted and merciless way. The speech Frank gives in the end is moving, and seems like he’s actually sending a message to the viewers, instead of to the characters in the film. The concluding scene that follows is equally effective in reinforcing the message. The reason this is so is perhaps because of the build up of empathy – empathy that results from shared feelings of frustration and alienation. Through such a virtually flawless use of rhetoric, this film succeeds with minimal effort to achieve its "prime directive."
God Bless America is currently available On Demand, and is scheduled to be released in theaters on May 11.
Reach reporter Raunak Khosla here.