New Dare Daniel

Dare Daniel XXV – “Freddy Got Fingered”

imagesFreddy Got Fingered (2001; Dir.: Tom Green)

GRADE: D+

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.

images3As 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.

index2It 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.

DARE DANIEL – Jack and Jill

indexJack and Jill (2011; Dir.: Dennis Dugan)

GRADE: D-

By Daniel Barnes

*Dared by Matt B.

Over a decade ago in a college newspaper review of Little Nicky, I wrote, “Adam Sandler is truly his generation’s Jerry Lewis,” with everything great and terrible that statement implies.” It’s a fairly obvious point that has been expanded upon by both supporters and detractors of Sandler’s for years, most recently in an excellent Vulture piece by New York film critic Bilge Ebiri. Besides the obvious symmetry of schizophrenic man-child stock characters, both Lewis and Sandler have the potential to touch the dark and upsetting reaches of the human psyche through their comedy. That’s great, except that Lewis and Sandler also want to be loved and desired, and so that vulgar subversion transforms into sleazy unction without even changing hairstyles.

Sandler’s great dichotomy has always been the divide between underplaying and going over-the-top, between trying too hard and not trying at all. On Saturday Night Live and in his early film roles, he became famous for vacillating between a shy, borderline “special” sort of giggly apathy and pointed, almost terrifying expressions of pure, raging id. Jack and Jill pushes that dichotomy towards its cynical endgame.

images2Playing estranged twins in this utterly repellent PG family comedy, Sandler predictably goes Bond-villain big as the wrecking ball sister, while barely registering as living flesh in the part of the straight-arrow Jack. The fact that his lazy, smirking turn as Jack is ultimately more annoying than his squawking, malaprop-spewing Jill (who at one point rushes into the bathroom with an audible outbreak of the “chocolate squirties”) speaks volumes about the film’s comedic bankruptcy and overall apathy. Clearly, Sandler treats his audience with contempt…and why not? God knows they’ve earned it.

Of course, you could hardly expect more from an actor who freely admits to treating films as working vacations. Perhaps blame can be assigned to director Dennis Dugan – a former television bit player and long-time Sandler collaborator, the 67 year-old Dugan helmed a couple of Sandler’s early comedies (most notably Happy Gilmore) before expanding his cinematic vision with National Security and Beverly Hills Ninja. Ever since 2007, however, he has become Sandler’s house director, and his last six films have all been Sandler “family” comedies. Given the results, it is safe to assume that Dugan also views movie shoots as working vacations.

Not surprisingly, most of the third act in Jack and Jill takes place on a cruise ship, and the film has to bend over backwards to get its characters on this narratively pointless sea voyage alongside extras that look suspiciously like Sandler’s children.  There is an argument that Sandler is right to view his life’s work with such money-grubbing and self-serving contempt, and that the box office successes of Sandler’s high-concept, “family friendly” dreck are their own justifications for existence. To that I can only respond: if profit margins are all that matter, then Sandler would do even better investing in bum fights, snuff films, and hardcore gonzo pornography, so look for all of those lighthearted PG romps in theaters next February.

images3There is a long tradition of cross-dressing in movie comedies, from the silent era to White Chicks, but Jack and Jill continues the sad and pathetic vein of misogyny that has always run through Sandler’s work. Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie dressed in women’s clothes to win a plum role, yet found that he understood and appreciated women more after walking in their shoes. In Jack and Jill, Sandler dresses in women’s clothes to arrive at the conclusion that non-feminine women are disgusting and unlovable wildebeasts.  The “heartwarming” twist to the ending is that Jack pimps his twin sister out to a poor Mexican laborer rather than to a rich Hollywood jerk. All together now: awwwww. Made while she was still Tom Cruise’s hostage wife, Jack and Jill casts an anesthetized-looking Katie Holmes as Adam Sandler’s wife hostage wife, although she’s only around to embody Sandler/Dugan’s other female archetype – the slim, smoking-hot, eye-rolling wife with no personality who abides idiocy and abuse in contented silence.

After a certain point, probably the exact point that Shaquille O’Neal popped up in a stringy gray wig to lick a honey-glazed ham, notions of time and space became meaningless. Jack and Jill boasts a svelte running time of 91 minutes, but there is a single dinner scene that feels longer than all of the dinner parties in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie put together, with the dinner party from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit where dwarves sing songs for half an hour thrown in for good measure. All attempts at wit are an insult to the limitless capacity of the human mind, and only the film’s weird factor keeps it from becoming completely unwatchable.

indexJack is a mid-level commercial director who naturally lives in a lavish mansion, but early on he learns that his job is in jeopardy (“Or something.” “Is he going bankrupt?” “Whatever.” “Should we even write it?” “Fuck it, no one cares.  “Cool, let’s go play frisbee golf.”) unless he can convince the Al Pacino to appear in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. Pacino plays himself here, and there is also a brief, self-mocking cameo from Johnny Depp, as well as a host of D-list celebs milling in the back of party scenes. I don’t know what convinced Depp and Pacino to debase their legacies even further than they already have, but I am one hundred percent convinced that Michael Irvin and Jared from Subway view the filmmaking process as a paid vacation.

Lest you think Pacino’s part in Jack and Jill is a mere walk-on, let me be clear– Pacino is in this film A LOT, and if you thought he was terrible in Scent of a Woman, then you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Luckily, by the time Pacino completely took over the film, my fourth beer had kicked in, and many of the finer details of the film began to escape the grasp of my consciousness. Sufficed to say that my notes became littered with barely comprehensible scrawls like, “What is Pacino doing?”; “Fuck this movie”; “Pacino = stop”; “Embarrassing”; “Fuck the shit outta this movie”, and “Is Pacino OK?”.  Finally, without even looking down from the screen, I scribbled “farts crotches farts.”

Let me repeat that: “farts crotches farts.”  It’s a sentiment that could easily be the tagline for Jack and Jill, and could just as easily serve as the epitaph for Sandler’s comedic relevance.

*Obviously, Daniel and George C. Scott were not big fans of Jack and Jill, but nevertheless the floor is open for dares for the June Dare Daniel review.  Post your dares here or on our Facebook page, or message your dare to Daniel on Twitter with the hashtag “#daredaniel”. ESFS will return later this week with Netflix Instant reviews of Let the Fire Burn and The Piano Teacher, reviews of films playing in this weekend’s San Francisco International Film Festival, and the wrap-up to our Psychology in Film festival. Our next ESFS Festival, in which we cover all six of French director Eric Rohmer’s Moral Tales, kicks off next Monday.

DARE DANIEL – The Back-Up Plan

imagesThe Back-Up Plan (2010; Dir.: Alan Poul)

GRADE: F

By Daniel Barnes

The “and credit” is hallowed ground in the opening credits of any film, an honorable position of respect not to be bestowed lightly. Naturally, the film’s stars are always listed first in a movie’s credits, followed by the supporting actors and featured players, but it is those final acting credits – the “and credits” – that provide the last punch of pre-movie hype. Typically, the “and credit” is used to showcase the presence of venerated stars in small roles (“and Sean Connery as Professor Henry Jones”), or to spotlight a breakout performer (“and starring Robin Wright as The Princess Bride”), or even to assure franchise fans that they are still on familiar ground (“and Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky”).

imagesTherefore, the “and credits” say a lot not only about a film’s star power, but about its self-conception regarding which of its elements might actually appeal to the public. So what does it say about Alan Poul’s utterly disgusting and dehumanizing romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan that the “and credits” are bestowed upon comedian Robert Klein and 1970s sitcom star Linda Lavin? It probably says that absolutely nothing in this miserable movie appeals to audiences, which is not a surprising revelation when you consider that the first spit-take joke comes less than three minutes into the story.

Jennifer Lopez and Michael Vartan Alex O’Loughlin, who have an obnoxious lack of chemistry together, headline The Back-Up Plan as star-crossed lovers Zoe and Stan.  When the film opens, Zoe has given up the search for “Mr. Right”, and has elected to start a family alone by getting artificially inseminated.  As she leaves the gynecologist’s office, Zoe gets into a cab at the same time as O’Loughlin’s smarmy Stan, which leads to one of the least cute “meet cutes” in cinema history.

But how did this “meet cute” even happen? We see the cab pull over across a couple of lanes to pick up Zoe, who enters the back seat through the passenger side. At the exact same time, Stan enters the back seat through the driver side, but it is unclear how he even got to the door in the first place. Was Stan hailing a cab from the middle of the street?  How he could not have seen Zoe, as he claims?  How could she not have seen him?  Is he a wizard or just a shape-shifter?  These are the sort of mental Moebius strips that usually afflict emotionally disturbed prisoners in solitary confinement, which is actually an apt metaphor for the experience of being forced to watch The Back-Up Plan.

imagesOf course, the taxi pulls away as Zoe and Stan argue over who should take the car, since cab drivers are notorious for hating cash fares. It is quite possible that the driver felt as I did, and simply could not stand to be around either one of them for another second. Zoe is a childish nitwit (at one point, she refers to Stan as “a stupid head”) with some incredibly low self-esteem, and Stan is a sleazy jerk accessorized into a hipster dreamboat. He’s a goat farmer who lives in New York, and although he is a complete stranger, he follows Zoe home and later accosts her at work, behavior that would seem terrifying if Stephen Trask’s twinkly score didn’t insist otherwise.

Although it approaches the audience with the “we’ve-all-been-there” wink of a For Better or For Worse comic strip, all of the concepts of “normal human behavior” in The Back-Up Plan are poorly calibrated. On their first date, Stan refers to his ex-girlfriend as “whore-ish,” which Zoe seems to find endearing. Zoe goes to visit a support group for single mothers the day after getting inseminated for the first time, and no one bats an eye. When Stan later feels “stressed out” by Zoe’s pregnancy, he stays up all night cooking hundreds of pancakes, which is something that a paranoid schizophrenic might do. Even the laws of science are debatable in the world of The Back-Up Plan – during one of the film’s many excruciating slapstick moments, a knocked-over candle causes a pizza to spontaneously burst into a flaming inferno.

Then there is the pet store that Zoe owns and never operates. I am completely fascinated by this pet store, and could go on for another two to three thousand words just on the insanity of her business plan. It is a cozy little mom-and-pop pet store in New York City with several full-time employees and no customers. Her business acumen is so bad that when Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Milian makes an in-store appearance to promote his book, he draws maybe ten to twelve people, and has to ask Zoe to leave when she refuses to stop talking over him. Despite all of this, Zoe lives quite lavishly, which would seem to indicate that the pet store is just the front for an international drug laundering operation.  If only the studio had made that movie instead this one, I probably would have been spared the moment where Anthony Anderson admits to having sex with a pregnancy pillow.

And there is more, so much more – Anderson plays a Bagger Vance-esque “Magical Negro” of fatherhood, and he mentors O’Loughlin in the ways of child-rearing and annoying improv.  Stan calls another pregnant woman “Orca”  at one point, which Zoe, now well into her third trimester, regards with the blank submission of an abuse victim. More than anything, this movie hates women: the day after learning she is pregnant, Zoe is already devouring hot stew straight from the pot with her fists. She attends a support group called “Single Mothers and Proud,” and the women in it are predictably portrayed as man-hating loons. The single mothers are outraged when they discover Zoe has found love (because it’s a group for single mothers, duh!), but they forgive her in time for Zoe and Stan to attend one of the group member’s New Age-y births, a sequence whose only point is that not having a man makes women crazy.

Stan initially decides to pursue his relationship with Zoe and help raise her child, but after a series of idiotic misunderstandings, she calls it off.   However, when she learns that her grandmother (played by “and Linda Lavin”) has finally decided to marry her own long-time fiancée, that changes everything for some stupid reason. Suddenly, Zoe is frantic to reunite with Stan, and although the timeline of Zoe’s pregnancy is completely confusing due to post-test screening re-edits, they reconcile just in time for her to go into labor. After a brief flash-forward, we see that Zoe has given birth to twin babies, while Stan has opened up a little goat cheese shop right next door to Zoe’s pet store.  The heartwarming message: as the family gets bigger, the international drug laundering operation has to expand in kind.

There are a lot of unappealing aspects to The Back-Up Plan, but least appealing of all are the stars.  Lopez has squandered her natural charisma, as well as the promise she displayed in early roles in movies like Out of Sight and Blood and Wine, by churning out one unchallenging pile of crap after another. O’Laughlin is best known for his role in the recent Hawaii Five-O reboot, and while I was unfamiliar with him before The Back-Up Plan, he is not likeable at all here.  When you consider that the only qualifications for his role were making stupid faces and looking good shirtless, you wonder why the producers didn’t just cast Dan Cortese instead.  At the very least, he would have made for a better “and credit” than Robert Klein and Linda Lavin.