Penetrating Vision of Tom Green
It is with much trepidation that I
approach this review. As a fledgling critic on a cut-and-paste website, I hope that
the internet will fulfill its egalitarian promise and that my words will resonate with
both the casual moviegoer as well as the cinephile. I also harbor this vague,
irrational notion that by garnering at least a small audience for my movie rants, my four
year stint as a literature major will somehow be vindicated. To that end, I think we
at filmsnobs have put out some quality analysis over the past two months, and as for
myself, it feels good to get back into my natural skin as a deconstructionist, to see the
world again, if only through movies, in the terms of ideas rather than the ephemeral terms
of the daily middle-class grind. I also know that to compliment Tom Green's latest
opus is not an original idea; The Boston Globe and The New York Times have
already christened it a document of surrealism, but I've got other things in mind.
That said, it still weighs heavily on my soul that I type the following words:
I loved Freddy Got
Ok, let me explain. Just hear me out. I'm not asking you to agree, nor do I
implore you to actually see this movie. In fact, it's a sign of taste and wisdom to
be of the opinion that Freddy Got Fingered is perhaps the greatest abomination of
film ever committed to celluloid. But let me attack this analysis by attempting to
establish a common ground.
I despise Adam Sandler.
My beef with Sandler is a bit more esoteric than a mere dismissal of his movies as man-boy
fantasies cobbled together around juvenile sight gags. I grew up in a time, before
cars and curfews, in which the thinking middle-schooler was stuck at home on Saturday
night soaking up Hanz and Franz and the Bush/Dukakis debate ("I can't believe I'm
losing to this guy!"). After the third great cast of "Saturday Night
Live" left (Carvey, Hartman, Lovitz, et al.), we were stuck with the B-team
of Sandler, Spade, and Schneider. These guys were talentless, only occasionally
providing laughs, and I think that they sensed it was time to get out before their comedic
stock lowered. Some of the best political material of the nineties was wasted on
these fools because they were unable to pull the Phil Hartman trick of being goofy and
savvy at the same time. Sandler wasn't a comedian; he was a jester.
Looking back, it was really Phil Hartman who was the
MVP of that troupe. He could fill any utility role necessary; granted, Hartman
rarely got the accolades of a Dana Carvey or a Mike Myers, but for consistency, Hartman
was the most talented of the bunch. I firmly believe that if it wasn't for his
unfortunate death, Hartman, in his later years, would have taken the place of Bill Murray
or Steve Martin, garnering the admiration of not just the average fan, but the begrudging
respect of critics as well. Who knows, maybe Phil Hartman would have added an Emmy
or even an Oscar to his legacy.
But Adam Sandler has crapped all over that legacy. Damn him.
"Lunch Lady Land" is kind of funny, I guess. And I fondly remember the
skit where Sandler played Donnie Wahlberg and kept yelling, "C'mon!
Damn!" Then Sandler ventured into film for the blatant cash-in. I didn't
hate him for that; I can understand wanting to make yours while you still can, but he
reminded me of a collegiate mid-conference all-star, with no real chance of succeeding at
the next level, ditching school for the NBA draft to rake in the signing bonus. Hey,
I was in college and living in the fraternity house, so I saw Billy Madison.
It was stupid, but harmless, I thought at the time. Surely this will be last of a
But people loved this crap. The theater was rolling. The video release was a
major event--someone rented it the very first night so that we could all witness it
together, like a lunar landing or election coverage. I didn't understand it. I
couldn't understand it. This is the stupidest, most juvenile and
condescending fantasia of male insecurity in film history, I thought. Why are my
friends, all smart, healthy people, lapping this up like thirsty dogs at a water
bowl? Maybe it's just because I'm a literature major; maybe I just don't get
it. I held my tongue. "Yeah, it sure is funny when he pees his
pants," I said.
My silent anger escalated. Happy Gilmore.
The Wedding Singer. "When will it end,
God?," I asked. All the underlying insecurities
and lingering juvenile fantasies of my generation of males,
still growing, still maturing, were being played out on the
screen for middle-school lunch table laughs. No shedding
of youth and the victorious journey into adulthood for us.
No Nick Hornby for us in America; we get The frickin'
Now those days are over, but all that anger still remains.
What the hell were we thinking? It was supposed to
be a time of intellectual germination and a bohemian spirit,
but we spent our time sneaking beers in to see Dirty Work.
I look at my generation now, struggling with wives, families,
jobs, and all the rest, and I see my male compatriots in Generation
X shrouded in existential angst, and someday I fear it's going
to explode. It's my diehard belief, as a champion of
the liberal arts, that if we hadn't spent so much time yuckin'
it up at Tommy Boy, these issues wouldn't seem quite
so perplexing to some of us. Since I can't pin it on
one specific idea or driving force, I choose to direct all
this discombobulated rage at Adam Sandler. Maybe, just
maybe, I hope, the Sandler days are over.
But no, we all went out and got subscriptions to Maxim and memberships at Gold's
Gym. Is it true that my generation, who grew up loving Dennis Miller's "Weekend
Update," have now anointed not Peter Singer, but Jim Rome as America's most
controversial social ethicist? I think it is. At least it is out here in the
flyovers. And we made Big Daddy one of the highest grossing movies of
1999--the year of American Beauty and Being John Malkovich. When,
God, when is it all going to end?! Did you send us a sign when they released Little
Nicky? Sandler did play Satan, right?!
Ok, so we've established the formula: Sandler = Satan. Now back to Freddy Got
Every Sandler movie (a term that we will use here to substitute for any Sandler or
Sandler-derivative grossout comedy) has approximately the same plot and
characters. Some stupid, twenty-something man-boy loser has just failed again.
He's got a kind heart, but he's innocent, and the big bad world keeps bringing him
down. Everything would be ok if big bad Dad (or in Bobby Boucher's case, a rather
dominating Kathy Bates) hadn't oppressed him during his childhood, so all current ills can
be traced to that. For inspiration, enter the Virginal Girlfriend. Now this is
no Jeffrey Eugenides abstract idea of the death of innocence; Sandler's Virginal
Girlfriend needs rescuing from dire circumstances by some geeky man-child who would treat
her right if only she'd let him, somehow wooed by all his immaturity. She's always
too intelligent for her station in life, and she's socially responsible, beautiful and
unmarried, sweetly innocent, but underneath this angelic exterior lurks an aggressive
sexpot just waiting to show him, dare I say almost literally, who his daddy really
is. With this inspiration, our hero uses his immaturity and pent-up aggression as a
weapon to win the mob and eventually the heart of his Virginal Slut, destroying big bad
Dad and that mean old world that wouldn't champion his loser qualities. Sandler
movies mostly condone, if not glorify, anti-intellectualism and unleashed, uncontrolled
aggression at a world that has inexplicably done them wrong. It also indulges the
pent-up youth's Oedipus complex...I could go on, but I'll just get angrier.
Thus is the construct of most gross-out comedies these days--check
out Saving Silverman's weightlifting nuns (in
a bizarre examination of gender roles) and Joe
Dirt's orphan story for recent examples of this dungheap
storyline. What might be most offensive about all this
Deuce Bigalow crap is that the comedy is absolutely
un-offensive. This, I think, tricks the average moviegoer
who goes for this garbage into thinking that's its not intellectually
offensive: the low-ball nature of the poop jokes isn't
so bad, so it must be ok that it projects a intrepid image
of men who think they don't have to grow up to become heroes.
Tom Green, who made a joke of his own bout with testicular
cancer, recognized this construct, and with Freddy Got
Fingered, does comedically what I think abstractly:
he made the big dumb stupid Sandler movie truly offensive.
It's as if he says, "Look at how stupid this is!
Isn't this horribly offensive?"
I have to admit that I was mysteriously drawn to a showing of Freddy Got Fingered
after reading some of the reviews for it. Man, I thought, what is up with all these
meat gags? There's got to be something to it. I also have an admiration for
art that intentionally tries to alienate middle-ground America, kind of like 1970's John
Waters; even if it's not good, I'll grant a little credit to something that doesn't dumb
itself down or compromise its own vision to become a better delivery vehicle for snack
chip ads. So here I am hunkered down for Tom Green's seemingly unadulterated vision
of what a big dumb stupid Sandler movie should be.
His hero is a terrible cartoonist who lives in his parents' basement. This is
standard Sandlerian man-boy stuff, but Green takes it a step farther and makes him almost
thirty, blatantly whoring off his home and building skate ramps in the garage, absolutely
refusing to move out. The Sandler movie also has little plot and nothing but shallow
stock characters, so Green's fledgling cartoonist is working on an amusingly drawn deer,
but an entertainment executive tells him his cartoon has "no plot or
characters," that he needs to "get inside" the character. So what
does Green do? He hits a deer with his car, road-dresses it, and wears its carcass
around maniacally screaming "I'm inside the deer! I'm inside the deer!"
Ok, I thought, he is going after literalizations...this could be good. This is our
first of many ingenious dealings with meat.
Rip Torn is a mean old bastard who is to blame for all of
his son's problems. Apparently realizing his guilt,
he screams at his boy to, well, have improper sex with him.
Later, Green tries to create music by tying phallically-shaped,
counter-weight sausages to his fingers, only to be interrupted
by Dad. It seems like all the meat gags have to do with
Tom Green getting back at Rip Torn. Sound offensive?
I think so too, but I just can't help but think that Green
is pulverizing the Sandler movie Freud fetish. He's
taken dumbed-down, pubescent ideas and presented them in a
way that practically dares the audience to find them so offensive
that they walk out. I say good for him. Plus,
in a bit of brilliant visual poetry, Tom Green does literally
what Sandler movies do abstractly: he goes scuba diving in
My favorite touch was the Virginal Girlfriend. The Sandler girlfriend is socially
responsible; Green's Betty is introduced to us as a nurse. She's a virgin/slut, so
Green gives her a wild penchant for oral sex. She's too intelligent to be where
she's at in life; Green makes her, literally, a dabbling rocket scientist. She is
also helpless and needs to be rescued, so Green makes her wheel-chair bound. Thus
comes the image that had me in the aisle: Tom Green's idea of the Sandler movie
romantic ideal is a handicapped nurse breaking the land-speed record while strapped into a
rocket-powered wheelchair. Come on, now isn't that the essence of the Sandler
romantic fantasy? Oh, but don't forget, she's also a hidden slut, so Green takes all
that helplessness and innocence and has her, literally, get off by having her paralyzed
legs caned. Wonderful.
It took me a little while to catch on to what Tom Green was doing, but once I thought I
saw his literalization of the Sandler juvenile fantasies, I tested my little theory by
postulating on the "climax" of the movie. Sure enough, Tom and Rip take
the biggest money shot since Scary Movie. How offensive! How
fantastic! And I enjoyed how the title, seemingly a meaningless sideplot in the
story, fit into the motif: Green absurdly asserts that his father molested his
brother Freddy. I thought I was making all of this up in my head until I saw the
bust of Freud thrown out the window. And I loved the infamous umbilical cord scene.
Sure, Green stole the gag from John Waters, but one of the most offensive things
about Sandler movies is all the bloodless, injury-free pain; Green takes a Sandlerian gag,
adds blood to it, and dares you to laugh this time. Nobody in the crowd
with whom I saw it took Green's challenge.
I say God bless you, Tom Green. You allowed me
to vent years of pent-up anger with your terribly offensive movie. But I still don't
know why people keep going to see this crap. I might be able to explain it, but not
without resorting to some vague social/psycho babble about a lack of cultural goals or
some crap like that. Anyway, if you're one of the Sandlerites, please, do yourself a
favor and go take in a more thought-provoking vision of pop culture, Moulin Rouge
perhaps...Jesus Christ, did you say that The Animal beat out Moulin Rouge for
the second week in a row? What has this world come to? Movie Gods, take me