Freddy Got Fingered
Screenplay : Tom Green & Derek Harvie
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Tom Green (Gord Brody), Rip Torn (Jim Brody), Marisa Coughlan (Betty), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Freddy Brody), Julie Hagerty (Julie Brody), Connor Widdows (Andy Malloy)
Critics and pundits have responded to comedian Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered, which he directed, co-wrote, and stars in, and they are appalled, I tell you, appalled. Shocked. Outraged. Disgusted to the point that they must check their thesauruses for new negative adjectives to heap upon it. And somewhere, wherever he is, Tom Green is sitting back and smiling: Mission accomplished.
On one of the early episodes of The Tom Green Show, which begun in 1994 in Green's native Canada and was picked up by MTV in 1997, he interviewed his mother and father in the basement of his house. As his mom and dad had been the favorite target of his on-air pranks and jokes over the years, they were justifiably nervous. Green immediately launched into a passive-aggressive interrogation of his parents' sexual practices, asking his mother repeatedly if she had ever performed certain sex acts on his father. Of course, these were questions that were never answered because his mother was so repulsed and agitated that she simply left the interview, with Green trailing her up the basement stairs still asking her questions. But, that was the point: Green had no hope that his mother would actually answer the questions. He just wanted to drive her away from the interview.
This is largely true of Green's approach to comedy, especially in Freddy Got Fingered. In falling all over themselves to declare this the nadir of the "gross-out" genre, the end of decency as we know it, or, in answering the question posed by a recent cover of Entertainment Weekly, simply declaring that Tom Green has "stepped over the line" (whatever that line is and wherever it may be), the critics are simply filling the role of the disgusted mother fleeing the interview. Tom Green has done exactly what he set out to do: His mission was not to be funny, but to repulse, shock, and outrage. Success for a movie like this is not counted in box office dollars, but the number of people who leave the theater before the movie's over.
Of course, astute readers will have already noticed that I gave Freddy Got Fingered only one star, so aren't I falling into his trap, as well? Perhaps (although I stayed through the whole movie, right down to the obligatory outtakes during the final credits). But, I give the film one star not because I was shocked and appalled and didn't find it funny (in fact, I found myself laughing a few times), but because, while I have a notion of what Tom Green is trying to accomplish, I can't find any appreciation for why he's doing it. Such extreme tactics are usually born out of some kind of radical political commitment or larger world view. Green, to my knowledge, has displayed none of this. Rather, he comes across much like the lead character of Freddy Got Fingered: an overgrown case of arrested development who is given too much money and freedom to indulge all of his worst instincts.
In many ways, what Green is doing is similar to the antics of the surrealists in the 1920s, John Waters in the late 1960s and early '70s, and the punk movement throughout the 1970s. What they all have in common is an aesthetic of shock for shock's value, to be purposefully provocative in order to force a response from their audience. They weren't looking for acceptance or admiration; they wanted a visceral reaction.
The surrealists had a saying: "épater la bourgeoisie," which means "shock the bourgeoisie" through art to shake them up and make them think about why they were shocked. John Waters was much the same way with his early '70s films, especially Pink Flamingos (1972) and Desperate Living (1977), both of which remain unchallenged by Greens' gross antics. The site of Divine munching on actual dog feces at the end of Flamingos or Susan Lowe cutting off her surgically attached penis with a pair of scissors in Desperate Living remain some of the most repulsive scenes ever committed to celluloid.
The difference between the surrealists and Waters and Tom Green is that the former had a point to what they were doing. When Divine screams that "crime is beauty" in Female Trouble (1975), she's make a particular anarchic political statement that is born out visually and thematically throughout Waters' films. He, the punks, and the surrealists had a genuine political incentive to fuel their extreme aesthetic. Green displays none of that, thus his extremity, in the end, means nothing beyond itself.
Of course, Freddy Got Fingered has a streak of the surreal in it, especially in its dismissal of the rational and a celebration of the excessive. Unfortunately--and I may be the only critics to actually suggest this--Freddy Got Fingered fails because it simply does not go far enough. Green has a devious mind, and he knows how to stage sequences that are virtually guaranteed to make the audience gasp. Take, for example, one of the opening sequences in which Green's character, Gord Brody, a 28-year-old loser who aspires to be an artist in Hollywood, is driving down the highway and passes a horse stud farm. He pulls the car to the side of the road, hops the fence, pushes a worker out of the way, and begins to masturbate one of the stud horses. Bear in mind that, much like the ending to Pink Flamingos, the scene is visually structured in such a way to make clear that it is not achieved through special effects. No, Tom Green is actually engaging in a form of comical bestiality by massaging an equine penis. Shocking, yes. Repulsive, quite. Surreal, perhaps.
Scenes like this one do border on the surreal in their complete detachment from any kind of rational reality, in their "didn't see that coming, did you?" provocation. The same goes for another oft-mentioned scene in which Gord is visiting a friend at the hospital and decides to help the woman in the next bed deliver a baby. Not knowing how to get the baby to start breathing, rather than slap it on the bottom, Gord bites through the umbilical cord and begins swinging the infant around the room like a lasso, splattering blood around the walls.
Those who fault the movie because they don't find scenes like this funny are missing the point. I don't know if Tom Green thinks it's funny, but he knows that it assaults treasured cultural values involving birth and children, which is why he had to include it. This also goes for the subplot in which Gord lies to a therapist that his 25-year-old brother, Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas), has been sexually molested by their father (Rip Torn), setting up jokes about homes for sexually abused children in which the aggressive kids sit around watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on TV.
However, to return to my assertion that Green does not go far enough, scenes like the aforementioned certainly achieve that shock value Green wants, but the film as a whole fails because these individual moments of moral assault are framed within a silly, sentimental family story right out of the Hollywood factory, complete with a romantic subplot and a nice ending. Such plotting works for the Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary) because they are essentially sentimentalists at heart who happen to like body-fluid gags. Green is not.
He takes the melodramatic plot and tries to make it as absurd as possible, so that his love interest is a women in a wheelchair who gets off on being caned and has an obsession with giving oral sex. Yet, his love interest, played by Marisa Coughlan, is conventionally beautiful and, despite acting dingy, is smart enough to build a rocket-powered wheelchair and value-laden enough to teach Gord about the importance of never giving up (yes, the movie actually has a message). And, even though Gord's relationship with his husky, blue-collar father is more like a boxing match of wills, they still come to an understanding of each other in the end. Green attempts to subvert all this with one, final shock moment, but it isn't enough. The damage has been done, and Freddy Got Fingered reveals itself for what it is: not a truly revolutionary assault on cultural mores, but rather a thinly disguised paean to traditional go-get-'em underdog values dressed up with ludicrous gross-out moments.
©2001 James Kendrick