Tom Green's film Freddy Got Fingered may be gross - but it is also a wicked comment on the Hollywood film industry.
The USA is currently being scandalised by the ‘gross out’ movie Freddy Got Fingered. Directed by Tom Green, madcap MTV host and celebrity boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, the film has got everything you need to whip the ‘moral majority’ into a frenzy: beastiality, umbilical cords, vomiting, S&M sex with people in wheelchairs….
But behind the gross, I actually think Freddy Got Fingered is a brilliant film. Not brilliant in the way 15-year-old boys think it’s brilliant (‘dude, did you see him whack off that elephant? That was so COOL!!’) – but brilliant nonetheless.
Maybe it’s not surprising that ‘concerned parents’ and the ‘moral majority’ are outraged – after all, it’s their job to be offended by everything. But it is surprising that normally intelligent film critics are churning out contemptuous reviews of Freddy Got Fingered. Could it be that these reviewers – who can analyse a Godard or Kiarostami film without batting an eyelid – have missed what Tom Green is doing here?
What Green is doing is taking the piss out of every sacred movie cliché he can think of. Romantic comedy, family saga, hospital drama, yuppie comedy of errors, inspirational feelgood flick, international thriller – they’re all mercilessly derided. By associating these clichés with the most grotesque imagery he can think of, Green opens our eyes to how unthinking the average Hollywood movie is.
The best way to tap into this subtext is to enter the cinema with full knowledge of all the gags Green is about to throw at you. Read a handful of reviews and the laundry list should emerge:
Green’s character Gord masturbating a horse and an elephant; crawling inside a dead deer; licking the protruding bone of his friend Darren’s compound fracture; severing an umbilical cord with his teeth and then twirling the newborn baby around his head; whacking his paralysed girlfriend’s legs with a bamboo cane while she sits in her wheelchair; his father asking to be sodomised.
The point is, once these antics have been robbed of their shock value, you can see the film for what it really is: a piece of anarchic glee.
Still not convinced? Green takes great pains to refute his detractors’ claims that he doesn’t respect the boundaries of taste and decency. In the scene where Gord canes his girlfriend’s numb legs as a form of kinky sex-play, he accidentally hits her in the face. She cries out in pain, and the tension mounts as you wonder just how dark this is going to get. She chastises him: ‘My face isn’t paralysed, you asshole!’ – and he immediately apologises.
Though Green is willing to go to extremes to assault and entertain his audience, he readily admits that he knows when enough is enough.
There are many other sly comments injected into the script by Green, which pre-emptively rebut the objections of the Taste Police. Gord’s mother accidentally sees her husband sarcastically asking Gord to violate him, and runs away in disgust. When Gord finally gets a chance to explain, he says: ‘Whatever you saw was completely out of context.’ The hint of honesty behind his line suggests that Green knows this work will be misunderstood by hysterical journalists who write about his most obscene stunts without bothering to contextualise them for the benefit of their readers.
But for all the film’s subversive intelligence, the weakest link is Green himself. His dopey charm can’t quite compensate for all the sloppy shouting that he indulges in. Freddy’s surrealism calls for a quiet insanity that is whittled down to a razor-sharp point, not the scattered flailing on display here. Green’s unpredictable, manic energy works better on the small screen than on the big screen.
One of the scenes from the film that is generating most debate is Gord’s sausage-piano performance. His girlfriend tells him that his creativity as a cartoonist might benefit from listening to some music and eating some food while drawing. Mystified by how he is supposed to do all three things at once, Gord’s solution is to hook his fingers up to pulleys with sausages dangling from the other end. The meat dances in the air while he bangs out a nonsensical song on a cheap electronic keyboard and intermittently scribbles a line or two on the easel sitting to his side. When a friend asks what he’s doing, Gord replies, ‘I’m being creative; is it working?’.
The open-minded viewer would do well to answer, yes.
Freddy Got Fingered is on general release in the USA, and it will be coming to the UK soon. Maybe.
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