Friday, March 8, 2024


 by Anthony King

Heading back to the cult with a new column.

As time slips through my hands, so goes the ability to watch a dozen movies a week, thus Notes on Film, my previous column, has been laid to rest. Fear not, though, as my love for cinema hasn't waned, nor has my love of the written word. So allow me, if you will, to present a new column. For 100+ episodes I hosted a podcast based on Danny Peary's Cult Movies books. Like the aforementioned now-deceased column, that podcast now lurks around your favorite podcast app, no longer updated. My devotion to the cult movie hasn't, nor will it ever, die, which is where Cult Corner comes into play. Every week I'll present a movie I (and usually many others) consider to hold some sort of cult status. Think of it as a continuation of Mr. Peary's books (or my podcast). And the first movie I'm covering is a notorious modern cult movie.

Freddy Got Fingered
Directed by: Tom Green
Written by: Tom Green, Derek Harvie
Starring: Tom Green, Rip Torn, Julie Hagerty, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Harland Williams, Marisa Coughlan, Anthony Michael Hall
Released: April 20, 2001
Everybody knows the standard bad movies: Reefer Madness (1936), Glen or Glenda (1953), The Creeping Terror (1964), and Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966). Also included in my own list of the dregs of cinema I never need to watch again are, to name just two, Evil Bong 888: Infinity High (2022) and Guru, the Mad Monk (1970). These are objectively terribly-made movies. Many people love these movies, and I'm all about liking what you like, but I won't stand to hear arguments that any of these movies qualifies as “good.” Few mainstream movies can hold the distinction of being “terrible,” and for a brief moment it seemed Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered would carry that moniker. Not so anymore, as countless viewers have either grown to love or immediately fallen in love with the 20th Century Fox-released surrealist comedy written by, directed by, and starring a Canadian shock comedian.

Like most Americans my age, I came to know Tom Green from his MTV show. For an adolescent of 16, shows like The Tom Green Show and, later, Jackass were (and, let's face it, still are) fuel for my wandering and impressionable mind. Green's deadpan delivery, his repeated enunciation of certain words or groups of words, and his fearless personality spoke to me and my friends. We were all distraught when it was announced that he had testicular cancer. We laughed nervously during the Tom Green Cancer Special. He was gross, he was funny, he was weird, and he did all the things we were too scared (or smart) to do. And then it was announced Tom Green was going to make his own movie. And lo and behold it would be released on my 20th birthday! I never saw it.
For one reason or another, it just never happened. I had a lot going on in the early 2000s. I dropped out of college. I slept around. I burned bridges. And I never saw Freddy Got Fingered. But as I started compiling a list of movies I'd like to cover in this column, I came across a Letterboxd list I periodically update called “Modern Cult Movies.” On the podcast, we'd ask our guests to share their definition of a cult movie. Everybody had a different answer that shared an orbit. My definition aligns rather closely with Mr. Peary's: a movie that has a devoted fan base that was initially maligned, misunderstood, or missed. Many people consider movies that haven't been seen by a lot of people to be cult movies, and that's fine. To me, though, those are just underseen films. Many people consider cult movies to be underrated, which brings with it its own questions of definition. Some of the movies I'll write about in this column might not be cult movies to you. And that's fine. Write your own column. But for the first edition of Cult Corner, I thought I'd better pick a movie we all agree falls squarely within the wide-ranging definition of “cult.”

Green stars as Gord Brody, a 28-year-old manchild living in his parents' basement. Mom (Julie Hagerty) still coddles Gord; Dad (Rip Torn), on the other hand, is walking disappointment in his eldest child. Gord's brother, Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas), is three years younger, works at a bank, lives on his own, and is the bearer of Gord's torment and jealousy. Gord is a cartoonist with ambitions of Hollywood, so he travels to Tinsel Town, Tom Greens his way into the office of studio executive Mr. Davidson (Anthony Michael Hall), and is promptly kicked out. But not after being given some sarcastic advice. Gord returns home to his father's chagrin, and almost immediately wages war with Dear Old Dad. During a counseling session Gord accuses his dad of molesting Freddy, which sets off a series of events that prove ruinous to the senior Brody's life. About a thousand other cinematic tangents and rabbit holes appear, sometimes out of nowhere, but the film is essentially an 87-minute episode of The Tom Green Show.
First things first: if you're not a Tom Green fan, you will despise this movie. His brand of humor is an onslaught of the senses. Admittedly, 90 minutes is about all I can take, which is why 87 minutes couldn't be more perfect of a runtime. Green's comedy shines the most when he's with other people. Rip Torn matches Green's energy beat for beat, which is a feat all in itself. Green's humor is usually quiet when playing off his female actors, as when his father destroys his halfpipe ramp and Gord is left standing with his mother telling her to leave and take on a lover. Or when he's at first taken aback when his love interest, Betty (Marissa Coughlan), tells him to whack her legs with a bamboo rod.

The oft clipped moments of Freddy Got Fingered are the least interesting of the movie. The elephant bukkake Gord gives his father, the horse cock, and the roadkill scene, while still funny, have been memed to death (before there were memes). The scene where Gord delivers the baby and swings it around by the umbilical cord is as funny as it is because it's immediately followed by Gord sweetly saying, “I saved the day.” Green's unmistakable bizarre brand of comedy reaches its pinnacle during a brief animation sequence of Gord's cartoon “Zebras in America,” where Green voiceover keeps repeating, “Look at my hoooooves!” Again, if you're not on board with Tom Green, you're not on board with Freddy Got Fingered.
Almost immediately proving its cult status, Freddy Got Fingered opened on April 20, 2001, making $7 million that weekend on a budget of $14 million. It opened fifth behind Bridget Jones's Diary, Spy Kids, Along Came a Spider, and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Over the weeks the film earned $14.3 million worldwide gross, qualifying it as a flop. Almost every single review panned the movie. Roger Ebert gave Freddy Got Fingered a whopping zero stars, and shit on the movie the way only Ebert could. “This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels... The day may come when Freddy Got Fingered is seen as a milestone of neo-surrealism. The day may never come when it is seen as funny... The film is a vomitorium consisting of 93 minutes of Tom Green doing things that a geek in a carnival sideshow would turn down.”

But A.O. Scott of the New York Times was seemingly the only critic at the time who saw Freddy Got Fingered for what it really was. “I come not to bury Mr. Green but – guardedly and with a slightly guilty conscience – to praise him... This much-hyped picture is in danger of being dismissed as yet another exercise in dumbed-down toilet humor. But to throw it into the refuse pile along with Saving Silverman, Say It Isn't So, and Tomcats would be to underestimate Mr. Green's originality and to misconstrue his intentions... Freddy Got Fingered forsakes the muddy field of infantile narcissism for the fertile, frightening ground of middle childhood. It's less about the dangers and pleasures of the unchained id than the giddy anarchy of the unbound imagination... As a director Mr. Green is competent, which is no small achievement, given the lurching sloppiness of so much movie comedy these days. His visual style is as relentless as his personality.”
With a 2.9 rating currently on Letterboxd, I think people have yet to see the genius that Mr. Scott, myself, and a few others see in Freddy Got Fingered. It covers the board on ratings, from 4,300 half-star ratings, to 6,800 five-star ratings, and everything in between. Tom Green was (and still is) a pioneer in the art of comedy. As a first-time director, it was clear he understood the craft of filmmaking. FGF hive, it's time to rise up and give this film its due. While it's currently streaming on the Criterion Channel, it's unfortunately in a collection under the banner of Razzie winners. The movie is more than a dumb, made-up award, that is generally dismissed by true movie lovers. Like many of the films I plan on covering in “Cult Corner,” Freddy Got Fingered is in a category of its own genius that will only grow in distinction over time.

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