God Bless America, Bobcat Goldthwait, 104 mins (15)

4.00

A middle-aged man and a crazed teen wade through the shallows of modern America

American comedian turned film-maker Bobcat Goldthwait has contributed more than his share to what Martin Amis would call the "moronic inferno" of modern culture. A regular guest on US talk shows, Goldthwait made his mark with a wise-ass persona and a high-pitched, dental-drill delivery. He's also appeared in three Police Academy films – a crime which has its own paragraph in the Geneva Convention.

Now it looks as if he's paying penance in his fifth feature as director, God Bless America. This cheerfully vicious satire addresses the horror of American culture today, through a hero who's had enough of it all – enough of demagogue TV hosts, placard-wielding bigots, no-talent "talent" shows, and neighbours who show you total contempt while greeting you as "bro". The film's comprehensive rage recalls Marlon Brando's Johnny in The Wild One who, asked what he's rebelling against, replies, "Whadda ya got?" Even poor Woody Allen is not exempted from the film's condemnation, although – for reasons I haven't quite fathomed – Alice Cooper is.

Frank (Joel Murray) is, to quote Taxi Driver, the quintessential "man who would not take it any more". Tubby, divorced Frank spends his days enduring the racket of his idiot neighbours – their frenetic TV fodder, their bickering about the crucial current affairs of the day: "Oh my God what is wrong with Lindsay Lohan?" What particularly gets Frank's goat is their perpetually crying baby: for Goldthwait, contemporary America is a nation of spoilt brats of all ages wailing their heads off. All this is driving Frank to homicide – "I know it's not normal to want to kill," he muses lucidly, "I also know that I am no longer normal" – and before long, he makes his grievance known in a way that's bloody, outrageous and taboo-flouting. OK, it's only an imagined moment of wish-fulfilment, but you'll laugh, once you've eased your jaw back into place.

Frank's sorrows mount up. He has to deal with his contemptuous ex-wife and horrible daughter; he has to listen to his co-workers cackling derisively about the latest lamentable "freak" offered as bait on a talent show called American Superstarz; he is informed by his doctor (a priceless scene with Dan Spencer) that he has a brain tumour; and he loses his job, essentially for being considerate.

This modern martyr finally decides to start killing, for real this time, and his extreme measures win him the adoration of a cheerfully demented teenager named Roxy (mesmerisingly abrasive newcomer Tara Lynne Barr). Roxy actually outdoes Frank's loathing for the modern world: while he's tolerant of certain phenomena, she hates pretty much everything, except Alice Cooper.

This odd couple team up for a killing spree, although Frank cools down Roxy's eager Bonnie and Clyde fantasies by insisting they stay platonic: "I refuse to objectify a child. I'm not American Apparel." Their subsequent adventures gratify those revenge dreams that we've all entertained. In one scene, the duo slaughter some teenagers for giggling through a documentary about the My Lai massacre. The punchline comes when the incident is covered on the TV news, and the violent content of the documentary itself is blamed for the killing. No one, Frank observes, takes responsibility for their actions any more – although he and Roxy do, and that's what makes them sympathetic.

You may recognise the jowly Joel Murray as the unfortunate Fred Rumsen in Mad Men, and he's brilliant casting as Frank, with his laconically pained calm. Most importantly, he makes Frank come across as a deeply nice man – perhaps, Goldthwait's saying, the last nice man in America. For what Frank laments isn't just noise or vulgarity but the death of compassion, tact, kindness and (a deeply unfashionable word) shame. He hates American Superstarz not because it's dumb but because it's modern bear-baiting, encouraging America to revel in the degradation of the weak and deluded. "Why have a civilisation," Frank asks, "if we're not interested in being civilised?"

Frank's odyssey climaxes in a confrontation with TV culture that recalls Peter Finch's "I'm mad as hell!" outburst in Network. Throughout the film, Frank and Roxy's jeremiads make you aware how much Goldthwait is putting his scripted thoughts into their mouths (sometimes decanting whole chunks of his own stage routine). But they are eloquent thoughts, and patently sane. There's political fury here, directed at America's hectoring shut-your-mouth Right – but more generally, a plea for being properly adult.

This is a rare and refreshing thing, an American film about despair – and funny with it. You'll chuckle darkly rather than laugh out loud. (Now there's a phrase that has been degraded.) But the film's final rant at the world is a wonderful lucid epiphany, and that's where, through Frank, Goldthwait transcends his TV doofus persona to emerge as a trenchant truthsayer – Lenny Bruce by proxy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform