Written by Jenny Lapekas.
I know the 90s are over, but I’m still a fan of Tom Green and his eccentric brand of humor. When critics and filmgoers dismiss Freddy Got Fingered, I feel it’s for the wrong reasons; to pass the movie off as a cinematic abortion of sorts is narrow thinking. People probably still wonder, Who gave Tom Green money to make a movie? I know, it’s like writing a kid a blank check and sending him into a candy store. However, if we’re not receptive enough to uncover the ideas and themes Green presents, and to assess their relevance to Hollywood ideals, celebrity status, and family politics, we need to re-evaluate how we watch film. There’s good stuff to be found in Freddy.
In the trailer for Freddy, Green tells us, “If you like acting, then you’ll like Freddy Got Fingered.” The film itself works as a commentary on the movie-making process and essentially laughs in its face. Green’s declaration is meant as a sneer at the generic nature of not only popular film, but the reasons behind that popularity: that many viewers hold low expectations when evaluating movie quality. The mantra throughout Freddy seems to be “I’m a 28-year-old man”: Green’s character asserting his maturity to his parents, who are well aware that their baby is still very much a baby at 28 years old. While his mother would prefer her baby boy to stay at home, Gordy’s father (played by the incomparable Rip Torn) wants to see his son succeed and make something of himself.
When Roger Ebert reviewed this film, he had this to say: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. The 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.” Then why mention it? It’s clear that Green doesn’t want to be taken seriously. He spends his time satirizing movie tropes and evading the cinematic qualities that define film as a meaning-making process. To discuss Freddy alongside Hollywood blockbusters is apples and oranges.[caption id="attachment_14387" align="aligncenter" width="205"] Even the film’s cover–Green mimicking the gesture filmmakers use when describing their creation or cinematic vision–pokes fun at itself.[/caption]
When we meet Gordy, his placement as an overgrown child is solidified when we watch him laying in bed, describing the absurd backstories that accompany the comics he’s drawn, which are actually quite good and show a great deal of artistic talent. Gordy’s job at the cheese sandwich factory is a satirical commentary on the struggling artist who works the meaningless, manual labor job while attempting to aspire to something greater in this life. Gordy’s departure from this job also serves to confirm his authentic identity as an animator.
The comical depiction of extended adolescence, especially in men, is seen often in film (see Step Brothers, Slackers, and Young Adult), yet it rarely seems tackled as a topic for discussion. Green’s lunatic brand of surrealist humor (see Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and The Mighty Boosh) and viewers’ not so warm reception of his film are a reflection of people’s desire for logic and the comfort we find in the assurance that gravity still exists each day when we wake. In an interview on the podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Green even explains that he was trying to make the “stupidest movie ever.”
Green pokes fun at the “feel good” moments we come to expect in films, the moments that inspire us and evoke tears. We see such a moment when Gordy spontaneously delivers a baby and has a revelatory moment about his life (see Mixed Nuts and Saved!), and again when Betty (Gordy’s love interest) invents a rocket-powered wheelchair.[caption id="attachment_14388" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Signature of Green’s absurd humor, he shows up at a swanky L.A. restaurant to track down bigwig Dave Davidson (Anthony Michael Hall) to see if he can score his own television series based on his drawings, all dressed as an English bobby.[/caption]
The head of Radioactive Animation Studio patiently explains to Gordy, “Your drawings are pretty good, but it doesn’t make any sense, OK? It’s fucking stupid,” which incidentally describes Green’s humor as well as the general theme of Freddy. We have these moments of raucous laughter, but we can’t explain the bizarre satisfaction we gain from watching Green’s stunts, which includes a fair amount of physical comedy in the same vein as Jackass, such as crashing into people and doors as he awkwardly moves around in the film, very much resembling a clumsy, pubescent boy. When Davidson tells him that his characters are lame, Gordy pulls out a gun and puts it in his mouth: more satire relating to the extreme measures artists take when their art goes unrecognized or they fail at becoming rich and successful (see Airheads).[caption id="attachment_14400" align="aligncenter" width="300"] “I’m a loser! I wish I was dead!!!”[/caption]
Freddy is a hyperbolic look at the consequences of extended adolescence, and several scenes exemplify this theme, particularly those involving Gordy and his dad. When Gordy is forced to move back home, he insists he’s going to eat a fast food chicken sandwich at the dinner table after his mother has made a lovely roast beef dinner. He argues with his father, citing his age as the reason that he can do as he pleases–a sure sign of adolescence–and his father sarcastically tells him how “impressive” it is that he can eat the food he chooses independently. This scene of family dysfunction is so telling and significant; the child-parent relationship is just that: between parents and a temperamental child who desperately wants to convince his parents that he’s not worthless. Gordy’s insistence to his father that he’s an adult and can make his own decisions–at the very least, what he chooses to eat for his dinner–serves as proof that he’s in fact not an adult at all.[caption id="attachment_14392" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Amongst his antics, Gordy dons scuba gear in the shower, where he pretends he’s diving for buried treasure, and he dresses as “the Backwards Man,” a tragic inversion of the savvy businessman his father dreams he could become.[/caption]
When Gordy decides to quit the “sandwich business” once and for all to fulfill his dreams of becoming an animator, his father even tries grounding him and sending him to his room. Ironically, Gordy’s fed up dad propels his son into success by showing up at his pitch and trashing the office of Davidson, who’s under the impression that it’s all a creative act. Although Gordy spends most of his million dollar check to drug his father and bring him to Pakistan, he finally proves himself by selling his “doodles” and taking on a job.[caption id="attachment_14393" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Aren’t we thankful there’s a movie out there where we can see Rip Torn spanking Tom Green like a naughty child?[/caption]
The title, admittedly, has very little to do with the plot of Freddy, if we can get away with claiming that the film does indeed have a plot. Gordy accuses his father of molesting his brother, Freddy, which is, of course, untrue. In accordance with this theme of extended adolescence, the 25-year-old Freddy–ambitious and cocky, and hence Gordy’s polar opposite–is taken into custody by Child Protective Services, and we see him in an orphanage watching television with young children. Gordy also makes sure to downplay his little brother’s success by telling him over breakfast, “You work at a bank. Am I supposed to be dazzled? You live in a tiny little shit hole, and you can’t afford breakfast, so you come here and eat for free.” Gordy has a point and manages to cast doubt on Freddy’s pride and sense of accomplishment. Despite Gordy’s talent as a troublemaker and Freddy’s work ethic, Gordy somehow remains the favored of the two sons.[caption id="attachment_14394" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Gordy tries to impress Betty by pretending that he works as a stockbroker.[/caption]
The role of Gordy’s love interest, Betty, is interesting. Betty is in a wheelchair and is called a “retard slut whore” by Gordy’s dad, representing a demographic that mistakes physical disability with mental impairment. Gordy purchases a ridiculous bag of jewels that he presents to Betty after stepping off a helicopter on top of a building, and she rejects them, claiming, “I don’t care about jewels. I just want to suck your cock.” We’re confronted with an image of female sexuality that many viewers find problematic; disabled female characters tend to be desexualized in film and TV, and we’re also faced with the challenge of negotiating Betty’s voracious sexual appetite with our own misgivings about kink, foreplay, and sadomasochism.[caption id="attachment_14395" align="aligncenter" width="300"] While attempting to give Gordy a blow job, Betty finds his umbilical cord taped to his stomach, a clear reference to his permanent infantilization, which he seems to simultaneously embrace and loathe.[/caption]
So why watch Freddy? How does the “stupidest movie ever” redeem itself for viewers unwilling to understand surrealist humor? The meta moments we find in the film culminate in the grand conclusion that “the Hollywood movie” can be interpreted as a pretentious joke, and Green is not taking his own film seriously enough to even stumble upon any form of success. Green’s treatment of this concept undermines critics’ ability to evaluate his film.
If you’re still skeptical, watch Freddy if only for Julie Hagerty’s performance. Hagerty, who’s always fabulous as “the mom” (see Just Friends, She’s the Man, and Storytelling) plays Gordy’s nervous, overprotective mother, even though Gordy is practically 30 years old.[caption id="attachment_14396" align="aligncenter" width="300"] At the advice of Gordy, Julie Brody leaves her husband and begins sleeping with Shaq.[/caption]
Green explains that the point of the movie was to be polarizing and that he found further humor in the highly divisive viewer responses. Green makes us question our own sense of rationality and how we’ve constructed reality thus far in our lives. Freddy is funny for its unpredictable and nonsensical nature, not its inability to paint a picture of logic and reason. If viewers feel violated after watching a subversive film that simply cannot be explained away or dismissed, there are plenty of movies that contain tired tropes and stereotypes (see The Women–Bechdel Test, anyone?–and every Tyler Perry movie ever).
In the film’s trailer, Green even tells us, “I don’t really know how to make a movie.” When Gordy shows Davidson his drawings, he schools Gordy on narrative structure: “There actually has to be something that happens that’s actually funny. What the fuck is happening here?” We may ask that very same question about Freddy. What’s going on here? Using surrealist humor to question social contracts and deride an audience that is too entrenched in the trite, the cliche, and the creatively irresponsible, that’s what.[caption id="attachment_14398" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Moments before the film ends, a self-deprecating meta reference.[/caption]
Any “hard-hitting” criticism of Freddy or movies like it is like judging the lasagna some nut brought to the National Pie Championships. Ebert was right: Freddy doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel, because Tom Green is too busy wearing the barrel on his head and making everyone uncomfortable to notice. Green’s movie inherently resists critique, which in fact makes this review, in a certain philosophical sense, nonexistent.
Jenny holds a Master of Arts degree in English, and she is a part-time instructor at a community college in Pennsylvania. Her areas of scholarship include women’s literature, menstrual literacy, and rape-revenge cinema. She lives with two naughty chihuahuas. You can find her on WordPress and Pinterest.