Tom Green’s Magnum Opus: ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ (2001)

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Freddy Got Fingered isguaranteed to end up on any “worst movies ever,” “most offensive films ever,” “Biggest comedian failures,” “Worst Performance of a Man Swinging a Newborn Baby By Its Umbilical Cord”. And it should: It’s terrible, misguided, and borderline incoherent. I wouldn’t try to convince someone otherwise. I’m not interested in trying to defend the film or arguing its significance (admittedly, I did chuckle a few times during watching.) However, the concept and existence of this film is what fascinates me. It is the perfect example of when someone from the fringes gets quick fame and someone believes that will translate to box office business, and what happens when that plan back fires miserably.

As a child of the nineties, you probably remember Tom Green from his MTV show. His comedy did not rely on jokes or bits, but being the most bizarre he could be and making people terribly uncomfortable. In a pre-Jackass world, He used his body as an object to be used and abused for the sake of comedy. It was something incredibly different and I have to give credit to MTV for giving him a chance.The MTV of the nineties has always been a big supporter of alternative comedy its due; The State, Julie Brown, John Stewart, Andy Milonakis, for example, are not exactly mainstream.

There were probably some old stiffs up at some major studio scratching their beards thinking, “this guy could be the next Jim Carrey.” It made sense. Like Carrey, Tom Green was Canadian, was a breakout hit on a cult comedy show, and used a lot of physical comedy. Okay, fair enough. Problem is, Tom Green wanted complete control over writing and directing. Which, in those days, there was no taking chances. A recent interview for Vice revealed that there was a lot of creative differences and he is not happy with his own stint in directing.

Tom Green is one of those comedians that you can either love or hate. He doesn’t make comedy, he only makes his comedy. A similar example is Will Ferrell. If you don’t dig Will Ferrell’s type of comedy, there is no way you could enjoy Anchorman, much less Stepbrothers. And, as noted, Tom Green thrives in “discomfort” comedy and breaking social norms. The problem arises because Freddy Got Fingered is presented as a traditional narrative; Green’s antics are the antithesis of this. Combining the two was its downfall.

Our underdog, Gord, played by Green, is presented as a struggling illustrator who wants to make it big. There’s no coincidence that Green cast himself as the “misunderstood artist”. His father is terribly abusive and his mother (Julie Haggerty, doing god knows what in this movie) is the passive wife. Gord’s father is not just unsupportive, he’s sadistic and abusive, which is presented comedically. Gord, because he is Tom Green, seems to be mentally ill from this abuse. In a way, it’s a sad tale of parental abuse and mental health struggles.

All we know of Gord is his desire to be an animator and he has a horrible father. He shouts a lot, and is just generally, odd. So when he proceeds into his comedic vignettes, there’s no rational reason as to why, for example, he licks the exposed femur of his friend’s leg after he is injured on a skateboard ramp. ALthough troubled, Gord is supposedly follows other social norms. As a viewer taking this literally, I can only conclude that this is a mentally disturbed man we are supposed to laugh at.

The sight gags are plenty; During a seemingly normal car trip, Gord stops excitedly to suck milk directly from the udder of a cow (no stunt double used) and cover himself in the entrails of a dead dear because, well, this is a Tom Green film.

After visiting the femur-exposed friend in the hospital, the woman in the same room begins to go into labor and Gord insists on birthing her baby against her wishes (in a very violent and violating act). He does pull out the baby, blood flying everywhere, to see that the baby is not breathing (to the mother’s horror, and to the viewers horror in the quick thought that he may actually be responsible for the death of a newborn). Amping up the crazy face and yelling, he starts to swing the infant by the umbilical cord around the room to get it breathing. The new mother, covered in blood, cries happily.

And you know what? I laughed at this scene. It was the absurdity of the situation and the commitment of Tom Green to the physical joke. Tom Green has this way of escalating his rants into a crazy, eyes-bulging state of complete abandon. I would have continued to laugh more if the film provided opportunities for Tom Green to show what he did best- theater of the absurd. Unfortunately, the story and plot only allowed for moments for things to happen- jokes were attempted that seemed forced and obligatorily applied in order to fit a more traditional comedy. And there’s still the issue that the viewer rationalized that Gord seems to be acting in these absurd ways because he is mentally ill as a result of an abusive father.  He’d not doing bits on his own show, his behavior needs to be explained by the character. So, in this case, he is dangerously close to “going full retard,” as method actor Kirk Lazurus so famously explained in Tropic Thunder. Knowing what I know about Tom Green, my mindset going in was that I was going to watch some subversive performance art. Unfortunately, the film is just not clever enough to have its total be more of the sum of its parts.

I will spare you from going into the plot of this film, because, it’s actually quite complicated with several side plots. The title comes from a brief, almost irrelevant plot in which Gord falsely accuses his father of sexually abusing his brother. Considering it’s the titular plot line, it does not go anywhere. There’s Gord’s love interest, Betty, a woman who uses a wheelchair, enjoys sex, and is a rocket scientist (literally). If she weren’t the stand-in for the manic pixie dream girl in this film, one could argue she’s one of the most unique, self- assured and strongest love interest in a “romantic” comedy scenario. It’s Betty that supports and tells Gord to follow his dream, which includes barging into Anthony Michael Halls’ office and demanding his own show about horses that mimic the dysfunction of his family. Hall agrees and gives Gord two million dollars, which he uses to commission a helicopter to surprise Betty. Betty also achieves her dream, which is building a rocket-powered wheelchair.

Gord’s animated series pitch is about a family of zebras that moves into a neighborhood and tries to fit in. The zebra family members are obvious stand-ins for Gord’s dysfunctional family. I’d prefer to see more of this cartoon, as it seems to have more potential than the rest of this movie. In fact, it is not unlike Bojack Horseman, a critically acclaimed animated series about anthrpomorphic animals on Netflix.

Gord getting his own animated series and winning Betty’s heart is not the happy ending.  because there’s an extended epilogue in which he also uses his riches to have his father’s home uprooted, somehow transported to the middle-east. and chased by the locals. Father and son battle, but are finally united when they find themselves in the line of fire of a massive elephant ejaculation. Because, of course that happens in this film. A lesser film critic would point at that this could be a metaphor for those of us that spent the 90 minutes watching this film; Top Green tricked us into getting sprayed by elephant ejaculate. It’s a fitting ending.

On top of all these other issues, the film shows Green’s amateur status as a director. Simple cuts to people back and forth as they are talking show his limited knowledge of dynamic directing. In a scene where Gord picks up a pen to throw, the shot goes from Gord to a close up of a pen as he picks it up, back to a wide shot of Gord throwing it. I’m no film student, but it sure is clunky.

Freddy Got Fingered is unwatchable. There’s nothing to be gained, not even schadenfreude of Tom Green’s ambitious attempt at a full-length film. Fans of Tom Green will be frustrated, as his brand of comedy is there, but not in the context where he shines. I also found myself having second-hand embarrassment for the other actors forced to screech their way through this film, including Drew Barrymore, his then-fiance. Bloopers and outtakes run through the credits, which appear to contain a lot of forced laughter from the actors.

Roger Ebert, to the surprise of no one notoriously bashed this film, writing, ”This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”  However, something compelled Ebert to revisit this film. Perhaps he also really wanted to extrapolate something from it, to redeem it somehow. He didn’t enjoy it anymore on second viewing, but he did call it “ambitious.” If by this he meant the ambition of Tom Green to bring his absurd humor to a major movie studio, then sure, it’s ambitious.

The real tragedy is that Tom Green will not likely be given another chance in a mainstream comedy. Perhaps this is a good thing, for I can see a subtle comeback as part of an ensemble in an independent film. He is not without talent and unique ideas and there is a spark, a really tiny spark of Andy Kaufman-esque anti-comedy charisma. Tom Green himself, a decade on, seems to be at peace with the film, so we should to, by never bringing it up again.

 

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