Freddy Got a Bum Rap
Tom Green’s Film Triumph
Do you have times when you just know you’re right, even when the whole world fails to believe you? I do. Some arguments I will make time and time again, never convincing anyone, despite the obvious rightness of my claim. They are the demons that keep me tossing and turning in bed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, sweat dripping off of my body, dreaming that I had gone to my grave without convincing anyone that “Freddy Got Fingered“ was a good movie.
In 2001, riding the success and notoriety he had gained through his MTV program The Tom Green Show, prankster Tom Green wrote, directed and starred in a movie. The movie, “Freddy Got Fingered,” was expected by many to be Green’s ticket to the big time.
It didn’t do so well. Hated by critics and audiences alike, the movie was a staggering failure. It swept 2001’s Golden Raspberry awards (given to the worst films of the year), taking home five “Razzies”; and the Toronto Star created a special rating of minus-one stars just for this movie. That’s how much it was hated.
Nobody would speak well of this movie. OK, one guy I knew liked it, but he was the kind of guy who liked The Cell, and therefore not a reliable source. I had to see for myself just how awful it actually was. No one would watch it with me, so I rented it and saw it alone. Imagine my shock to discover that the movie was sort of ... excellent. Not full-on excellent, mind you, but kind of excellent, partially excellent. Excellent in a negative way.
The movie opens with Tom Green’s character, Gord, looking at pictures it is presumed he has drawn. We see a picture of a cat wearing a cape, a t-shirt labeled “X-Ray Cat,” and underwear briefs. Gord provides dialogue for his cartoons:
Hi, hi, hi, hi. I’m X-Ray Cat. I’ve got superpowers. I can see through doors with my x-ray vision.
Gord moves on to the next page. X-Ray Cat is looking through a wooden door with his x-ray vision. There is a generic looking robber, holding a gun and a bag of money.
Wooden doors. I can see the criminal on the other side. He can see me and he’s committing crime. I come along. I say “I can see you.” He says “you can’t see me.” I say, “yes I can, with my deedee dee de dee x-ray deedee dee de de doo.”
Green’s Gord is getting quite worked up, gesturing emphatically and unable to keep his enthusiasm in check as spews out his narrative.
'X-Ray Cat.' Do doodoo. 'You can’t get me.' 'Yes I can, yes I can.' Doo doo doo, 'Yes I can. Yes I--'
This new picture is a new scene. There are two panels. In the first, an anthropomorphic banana wearing a tie is presenting a job application to a schlubby managerial-looking guy sitting at a desk. The second panel shows the boss enthusiastically shaking the banana’s hand. There is an arrow pointing from the first panel towards the second, to make sure that we seamlessly follow the sequence. Gord continues to narrate, switching gears from X-Ray Cat to the banana interview without so much as a pause.
The Bananas! I know a banana who applied for a job as a telephone repairman. Guy came and said, “You want job here?” He said, “Yeah, I wanna get a job as a telephone repairman.” He said, “YOU GOT THE JOB! YOU GOT THE JOB, BUDDY!” Then the beavers came.
Indeed, Gord has switched to a picture of two beavers. At this point the camera pulls back to reveal Gord for the first time, lying on his bed, looking at his drawings, barely keeping his excitement in check.
The beavers started yelling at other beavers. The beaver started yelling at the other beaver! He said, 'You stupid beaver! You stupid!!
Gord can contain himself no longer, he is overcome, red in the face, with delirious laughter. He is laughing so hard it sounds as though he is in pain.
With this opening, Green established up front that this was probably not the movie you were expecting to see. The scene is hilarious to Gord, but there is no joke, leaving us with a discomforting void. This sensation will be revisited throughout the entire film. Green wants to make the audience uncomfortable, and he is good at it. This movie exists to nudge you out of your comfort zone.
It isn’t funny, at least not in a conventional sense. Its “jokes” somewhat resemble the comic stylings of “The Muppet Show“’s Fozzie Bear, in that they have an inverted comedic property. Green uses standard comedy material, but he purposely takes the jokes way too far, to a horrifically awkward place. The humor lies outside of the joke, within the contrast of what is normally found funny against what is found horrible in this movie.
Gord is friends with a little kid named Andy who accidentally gets hit in the face each time he appears on screen. It’s a standard sort of gag, right? In Green“s hands it is something else entirely. Andy gets hurt, and we are treated to a hideous scene of a screaming child, spitting out blood and teeth. It’s not funny. It’s horrible and uncomfortable to watch.
In Freddy Got Fingered, Green takes the basic formulae of screwball shock comedies and turns them on their ear. Gord is an iconoclast who whishes to achieve success in a creative endeavor while eschewing behavior people consider normal. Along the path to success, he engages in hijinks and learns a lesson. This is normal shock-movie fare, but Green doesn’t want to make a normal shock movie. Green wants to genuinely shock you and to show you how not shocking other so-called shock movies are.
Most people did not come to this movie wanting or expecting to be truly discomforted. The audience wanted a comfortable level of zaniness. They wanted Green to be another Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider. They wanted the same old shock values. What they got was something more complex: a post-modern shock movie. A sucker punch. Audiences thought they knew what they could expect with this movie. It was supposed to zip along, making dumb jokes for teenagers frequently referencing poo and sex. This is the established domain of such movies as Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo or American Pie. These movies are set at an understood level of shocking, where rudeness passes for shock. They are, in their own way, tame. They use a fairly predictable toolbox. They make tactless jokes about sexual functions, sexual situations and defecation and are very impolite without crossing real taboos. They push the limits, but they certainly know where the limits are. If they were actually shocking, major film studios wouldn’t produce them, because they wouldn’t fill seats.
Freddy Got Fingered failed in the mainstream because it set out to push past that invisible boundary. This isn’t a light, lazy movie, getting by with no more than a “wangs are funny” attitude. It isn’t mere grossness and sophomoric comedy for the sake of a cheap laugh. The movie fails as a comedy, but succeeds as an exercise in discomfort. Green is dead set to offend your sensibilities, wherever they may lie, and if you watch this movie you’ll probably be offended. I know I writhed in my seat a little.
So this is a movie that does not succeed in entertaining us, instead preferring to offend our sensibilities. One could argue that this doesn’t make for a good movie, just a movie that excels at being bad. The biggest pile of trash is just a big pile of trash, after all. I, of course, disagree with this assessment. The shock provided in this movie is an intrinsically valuable service. “Freddy Got Fingered“ helps remind us that some things make us uncomfortable. Some things are just taboo.
Taboos are harmful things. Nothing should be taken for granted, without scrutiny. Any rule should be able to withstand the question “why?” This can be difficult, because they are annoyingly invisible. If something is big enough you don’t notice it. You don’t realize that you aren’t comfortable with a man licking another man’s open wound until you are confronted with such an act. You might not know where the line you aren’t comfortable crossing is, until you are confronted from the other side.
My impression of Tom Green is that he is a man who disapproves of boundaries. He wants to reach out to us and test our boundaries. He pulls you to the extremes, so that you can find what the things that are that make you uncomfortable.
Green rolling around in the guts of a deer found on the side of the road isn’t funny. Neither is watching him masturbate an elephant. It’s gross. But that’s the point. It provokes a reaction. Why do we get uncomfortable when a man touches a horse“s erect penis? Why does the sight of a man biting through an umbilical cord make us blanche? Where are our boundaries and why do we have them?
Obviously, this isn’t the first or only movie to deal with taboo subject matter. There have been other movies, more cohesive and nuanced movies, that broach forbidden topics. These movies can question our social mores and provide serious thought. That is not what “Freddy Got Fingered“ does. Green“s movie bypasses the brain and goes for the viscera.
Not many people will walk away from this movie saying, “You know what? This movie challenged my perception that it is bad to whack off horses.” But people will be aware that seeing a man touching horse penis holds a gut-level revulsion much deeper than, say, seeing semen in Cameron Diaz’s hair.
Do not let my praise obscure the fact that this is a very flawed movie. It is uneven and awkward all across the board, and it misfires in many places. The cinematography is un-noteworthy, and the performances aren’t deep. Rip Torn, in particular, just lets it all out, chewing scenery like a starving man.
But for all the flaws the film has, there is something special here. When Green made this movie he defied what the studio wanted and what audiences wanted. He threw our expectations in our face and made the movie he wanted. Despite its myriad flaws, despite how painful it is to watch the thing, Green’s movie has genuine merit. When I finished watching Freddy Got Fingered, I felt I had a greater understanding of who I was.