By Daniel Barnes
The easiest and least honest way to dismiss the depressing grotesquerie of Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered is to malign the film solely for its wretched content. Yes, director-writer-star Green uses profoundly disturbing subjects like animal mutilation, pedophilia, bestiality, mutilated children, Rip Torn’s ass, sexual assault, dead babies, and Drew Barrymore as fodder for his unique brand of cognitively disassociated hijinks. But to dismiss a filmmaker solely for finding sick humor in offensive behavior and non-sequiters is to dismiss Bunuel and Jodorowsky and Lynch, to say nothing of Adam McKay.
Furthermore, to assert that certain subjects are off-limits as humor effectively stoppers the necessary anarchic spirit of comedy into an opaque bottle of safe ground. And while I feel that the practical joke is the lowest form of comedy (it’s no surprise to read that Green pledged a Canadian fraternity), I also take umbrage with the idea that Green’s cruel prankster character is a priori offensive – around the same time that Freddy Got Fingered was made, some of the edgiest and most memorable bits of David Letterman (a hero of Tom Green’s) revolved around fucking with strangers on the street.
As ever, the offense is in the execution – Freddy Got Fingered wants so badly to shock you out of your middlebrow complacency, but it’s never disturbing, only sad. That’s not to say that Green didn’t make exactly the film he wanted to make – it’s just that Green is a pathetically one-note provocateur. Like a candy-grinning kindergartener, the only point of his ear-splitting tantrums is to annoy and exhaust, and dear God does he ever succeed. Green falls down on the floor in the crowded department store of your consciousness, kicking and wailing until he gets the wrong kind of attention. During a recent family fathering, my five year-old nephew began droning, “beee-do, beee-do, beee-do, beee-do,” almost to the point of madness. Eighty-seven minutes of that, and you have Freddy Got Fingered.
Green’s opus opens on his 28 year-old Gord Brody deliriously narrating his own shakily drawn comic strip to himself, and in its best and most unhinged moments, the film captures that feeling of an uncensored and unformed child mind at play. In its most repugnant and depressing moments, ditto. This is playing-in-the-mirror comedy stretched to feature length, and yet it is also most definitely NOT a window into Green’s “tortured” soul, just another elephant semen-soaked wall of narcissistic disaffection. Freddy Got Fingered only works as an eye-rolling expression of Green’s ugly view of humanity, and Green performs with all of the subtlety of a developmentally disabled man tearing apart an ice cream shop.
For the most part, Freddy Got Fingered sulks in the corner, demanding points for a fearlessness that it rarely achieves. Green compulsively undercuts his most socially subversive humor, virtually elbowing you in the ribs and assuring you that it’s all just a joke. The use of music is an especially egregious hedge – as Gord leaps out of his car to instinctively and ecstatically masturbate a horse penis, wacky hillbilly music plays on the soundtrack. When Gord leaps onto the conveyer belt at his factory job, clutches an oversized sausage to his crotch, and repeatedly screeches, “I’m a sexy boy! Ding dong!”, the song “I Gotta Be Me” is heard. It goes on like that – it’s extremely revealing of Green’s snide desperation that the only people who are visibly agitated by Gord’s dehumanizing behavior are rich snobs and snooty maître’ ds.
Even his clownish physical mannerisms are a back-slapping smirk reassuring us that all this rape and torture stuff is just a silly joke. In many respects, Freddy Got Fingered is the perfect “it-puts-the-lotion-in-the-basket” double feature with the previous Dare Daniel movie, Chairman of the Board. Carrot Top is essentially a children’s show entertainer doing a ribald act for adult audiences, while Tom Green is a pot-bellied, insecurely bearded adult acting like a hyperactive child. The stronger link is that both Carrot Top and Green are woefully limited as performers, and tolerable only in miniature doses, and so naturally their starring vehicles become water torture tests of psychological endurance.
It is strangely admirable that Green used the rarely achieved platform of auteur-ship to craft the most off-putting vision imaginable, but the film he made is also stridently anti-wit and anti-intelligence. Almost all of the comedy in Freddy Got Fingered is based around pushing the gag barrier further and further – the punchline to a recurring gag about an injured child is that it looks like the kid is really spitting up blood and teeth. If an exposed broken bone or engorged animal penis enters the frame, it’s a sure bet that Green is going to put his tongue on it. He repeatedly tests the electric fence of bad taste, much like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, so at least give Green credit for possessing the intelligence and comic timing of a prehistoric bird.
A Canadian public access weirdo turned MTV figurehead, Green really was a groundbreaking comic figure in the late 1990s/early 2000s. He pioneered a form of anti-comedy beloved by you god damn millennials (don’t get me started!), a form made more popular by Jackass, and edged into the avant-garde with Tim and Eric. The film is effective in the sense that waterboarding is effective, but the shock value of Freddy Got Fingered is still pitifully timid – Green crafts a sequence in which Gord shoves his hands into a pregnant woman’s vagina while she begs him to stop, then swings her momentarily deceasad baby around by its umbilical cord before cutting it with his teeth, but the denouement advocates for the same fuzzy-safe, crazy-folks-are-saner-than-us-normals inanity as Benny and Joon. If the grade seems higher than normal for a Dare Daniel film, credit my affection for singular visions, even those that should have been left in the womb.