Freddy Got Fingered
Directed by Tom Green
Starring Tom Green, Rip Torn, Julie Hagerty
Written by Tom Green and Derek Harvie with Shawn Greenson
A friend of mine who once worked at a Hollywood advertising agency let me in on an industry secret: if a studio thinks a movie will get really terrible reviews, they will launch a massive blitzkrieg advertising campaign before the movie is released. They assume that after people read the reviews, few will want to see the movie, and so most of the film’s revenue will be generated during the opening weekend. If you watched TV, rode public transportation, or walked around a city over the past few weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed that Freddy Got Fingered received the royal advance-advertising treatment, with Tom Green’s manic face peering out from all imaginable media. This deluge, in and of itself, doesn’t really surprise me: after all, it’s a safe bet that most movie critics are going to reject out of hand any loud, gross-out comedy aimed at teenage males and starring an MTV cult hero. What did surprise me, however, was the fact that none of the ads reveal any concrete information about the film. Relying purely on Tom Green’s presence, none of the millions of commercials, posters, postcards, and flyers tell anything about the plot or explain the mysterious title. None prepare the viewer for the extraordinarily disturbing scenes of violence and gore. And none hint at how inexplicable, revolting, unsettling, and simply weird this film truly is.
So, before presenting an opinion about the film, this review will try to answer all these lingering questions. First, in a nutshell, the plot: Gord Brody (Tom Green) is a 28-year-old aspiring animator who begins the movie by finally leaving his parents’ house and setting out for Hollywood to sell his cartoon. His domineering, brutish father, Jim Brody (the impeccable and delightful Rip Torn) rejoices at his departure, while his spaced-out mom (Julie Hagerty, who has pretty much made her career playing spaced out women) stares blankly into the horizon. But Hollywood is not kind to poor Gord; after a vicious cartoon exec (the perfectly slimy Anthony Michael Hall) dismisses his pitch, he quickly retreats back to his parents’ basement. The film then turns into a War of the Roses variation, as father and son butt heads over the direction of Gord’s life: Jim wants the deadbeat to get a job; Gord apparently wants to pursue his animation dream, but seems distracted by his obsession with animal genitalia and A.D.D.-influenced absurdist humor. Gord is also distracted by his new nymphomaniac paraplegic girlfriend Betty (Marisa Coughlan), who dreams of building a rocket-powered wheelchair. After a series of conflicts with his dad, Gord gives up on his dreams and gets a dull job, but Betty inspires him with her perseverance. In the end• well, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the ending, aside from an interlude in Pakistan, is pretty predictable.
You might have noticed that none of the above characters are named Freddy, which leads to the second question: what exactly does the title mean? Freddy is a minor character, Gord’s younger brother, a stiff, anal-retentive nerd who works at a bank and criticizes Gord for his lack of responsibility (and is played by Eddie Kaye Thomas, who, unfortunately for him, here extends his role from American Pie and seems destined to forever play stiff, anal-retentive nerds). The title refers to a fairly minor plot development: Gord falsely accuses his father of a crime involving young Freddy, the specifics of which are a little too• indelicate to discuss in print.
In fact, the only constant in the movie is the appearance of scenes that a respectable reviewer can’t really describe in detail. This is, unexpectedly and without a doubt, the most graphically violent movie of the year; compared to Freddy Got Fingered, Hannibal seems like Bambi. Tom Green has made his name as a kind of genetically enhanced version of Jim Carrey, a wild man of limitless energy whose humor relies on complete randomness; its only predictable characteristic is its total unpredictability. He is always striving for the unexpected. The movie continually returns to the theme of pushing the envelope, doing things that are completely disgustingly graphic and tasteless, well beyond the scope of anything that has been done before.
Take, for example, the character of Andy Malloy (Connor Widdows), an adorable eight-year-old who lives across the street from Gord. Poor Andy is the film’s running gag: every time he appears, he is bursting with youthful enthusiasm and glee but quickly gets horribly injured. His injuries are not simply slapstick trip-and-fall gags; after each incident, the camera lingers on him in close-up, showing his wounds in horrible detail: we see blood streaming down his face, a bottle breaking over his face in slow-motion, chipped teeth dangling from strands of torn gumline. Throughout the film, Green (who not only stars but also served as writer and director) deliberately tries to do things that have never, ever been seen in mainstream film before, everything from incredible gore to bizarre sex scenes with his crippled girlfriend to bestiality to Rip Torn’s bare, dimpled bottom.
But at the same time, Green deliberately references an entire century of Hollywood film: there are allusions (sometimes witty, sometimes needless and heavy-handed) to everything from Buster Keaton to The Deer Hunter. Like anybody who wishes to deliberately defy convention, Green demonstrates his deep understanding of convention; he needs to be aware of tradition in order to break with it.
Ultimately, that seems to be Green’s primary goal: not so much to make the audience laugh as to shock them. There are few jokes in the traditional sense: no punchlines, no reversals of expectations. Instead, Green gives us scenes that we could never even have imagined; he is not creating a comedy so much as deliberately and defiantly creating scenes that no one has ever seen – or even imagined of – before. As the credits roll, Iggy Pop belts out a version of Sammy Davis Jr.’s “I Gotta Be Me.” The song is the perfect punctuation mark for the movie, reinforcing everything it tries to pull off: a celebration of individuality run amok, a world in which Tom Green has the right to do whatever Tom Green wants.
But is it good? Is it worth seeing? Leaving this movie, I really didn’t know how to answer those questions. It’s definitely unexpected, repulsive, and tasteless. It really isn’t that funny, and in terms of plot construction is kind of flimsy. But its originality is somewhat admirable; if nothing else, you can say you’ve never seen a movie quite like this. But ultimately, that originality is kind of superficial; the movie isn’t really witty enough. As Gord careens through scene after scene of bloody slapstick and wild, almost epileptic outbursts, the movie never really bothers to consider the meaning of all this over-the-top-stuff. Gord is supposed to be the hero and his father the villain, but all too often I found myself sympathizing with the hard-working dad whose son is not so much interested in pursuing his dream as molesting horses. The message of the film, really, is remarkably hollow. Green’s father is the villain not because he tries prevent Gord from following his dream, but because he tries prevents him from acting completely insanely. The movie worships Green’s vision of mindless, anything-goes freedom, but doesn’t really explain why such unfettered craziness is satisfying or worthwhile. It’s definitely a unique movie, but it’s not really funny or fulfilling. As such, Freddy Got Fingered seems more like a conceptual art film than a comedy, and it doesn’t hold up as such. Although the film prides itself on defying expectations, when we pay money to see Tom Green, we at least expect to laugh.