Steve Bullin

Apparently a bunch of our youth tweeted recently about Justin Bieber visiting the Anne Frank house and made clear they had no idea who Anne Frank was or why the young celebrity would go to her house. This is why films like God Bless America have come into existence; because people see failings in the American education system, because society is tired of the materialistic and the self centered focus we see in our youth, because at some point in time we are all sick to death of the ignorant, hate mongering, finger pointing, self pitting, stupidity of our fellow human. And this film plays to that, focusing it’s anger at the extremist right wing media, or just right wing- it’s difficult to tell.

And so continues the age old trend of Hollywood vs conservatives. Conservatives have a history of pointing fingers at Hollywood for “corrupting youth“, for turning the nation’s youth into sex and violence crazed delinquents, and then spurring on social movements to “clean up” our entertainment coming out of Hollywood. As an artistically expressive community, Hollywood has always responded to these attacks and attempts at censorship by stretching the bounds of what was “acceptable” on film in those days. Instead of having the sex, violence, and depiction of police corruption right onscreen it was cleverly insinuated and hinted at. The script and cinematography found ways to tell, without precisely telling, the exact level of explicit and mature material on film as they wanted, without the Production office being able to do a thing about it. This became the pattern: conservatives would blame Hollywood for causing the American problems, and would apply pressure to censor or tighten up Hollywood’s practices. And in turn Hollywood would find ways around those censors and keep right on practicing. As times have gone on the specifics of the argument and what is to be censored or what is “suitable for viewing”, have changed, but the dynamic has remained the same. Hollywood became particularly liberal, with the handful of exceptions.

And that is why and how God Bless America is so much of what it is. A satirical criticism of the American pop-culture and “conservative values”. Does that sound a little pretentious? Because that’s what the film is. Saying nothing about the specific politics or ideals, the way the film presents itself- like it thinks it’s a Boondock Saints of the American way. Leaving the people who are polite, kind, and courteous to others, while killing the people who are impolite, hateful, and ignorantly malicious. The theme itself isn’t a problem, that sounds great, watching the trailer and thinking of this movie still makes me smile; but the way it was presented places it in an entirely different category. Where Boondock Saints was a vigilantly commentary on the degradation of values through “just” justification and the death penalty, God Bless America is commentary on how people aren’t very nice to each other. The issue is that that alone, doesn’t justify the character’s actions to us. Deep down we know that someone who goes out shooting people for being self centered, or discourteous to others is themselves being self centered and discourteous. It’s impossible to shoot someone in the head for not being nice without being “not nice”. In no world is violence towards others considered courteous. And when the film is ignorant to this the audience tends to step back and disassociate with the protagonist.

Frank is depressed and stressed about the state of the world around him, and we can empathize with that, we understand those feelings. But then he goes out and kills dozens of people and seems completely desensitized to it, these acts of violence he’s been contemplating for ages finally come to fruition and he has little to no reaction from them. There are only the briefest moments of shock on his face when his gun jams or he sees a young girl stab a woman in the stomach, and an interestingly different segment where he strangles a suspected pedophile after being accused of being one himself. But that’s it. We don’t see that human reaction to taking life, or the stress building up from a life on the run.

In fact the only real conflict the protagonists seems to deal with is their strange relation to each other and self esteem. Roxy, as a young angry teen is reaching out for someone that understands her and asks Frank if he thinks she is pretty, if she’s become infatuated with the killer or if she’s just looking for some moral support from a friend isn’t made clear. Frank responds poorly, saying he wont take the responsibility for a teenager’s self-esteem and that he just can’t (or won’t) see her in anyway where she is anything but simply a child. Their relationship obviously suffers because he’s belittled his partner in crime, who, despite her anti-social, angsty tendencies, is obviously starving for attention. That there is the bulk of the narrative. That is the boiled down real story and character moments of this film. In the end the film resolves by the two meeting up again, Frank telling Roxy that she is very pretty, and shooting up an American Idol look-alike TV show before being blasted to kingdom come by the police and swat. It’s one of those strange cases where when talking about the film you can talk about the actions and the characters separately and it would seem like you are talking about two entirely different movies. The character stories really didn’t need the gun happy postal shootouts. It might have actually benefited if the film cut out a good part of that and built up to it in the end. These characters become celebrities in their own right and not much really happens with them as far as characters. A man slowly starts to get to know and befriend this young girl and they both benefit from this human connection. Awkward narrative to stick in the middle of a killing spree, it could have been done well–or at least better–but it wasn’t.

It’s a little awkward and even preachy at times, but God Bless America might be worth a few laughs if the trailer gets your fancy.

Until next time, this is Steve with the A-List.

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