Reconsidering Freddy Got Fingered

In 2001, a critically loathed, sparsely attended movie born out of a hit, hip cable show became synonymous with bad movies, failure, and struck a blow against edgy and weird comedy infiltrating the mainstream.

That movie was Pootie Tang, eventually a cult hit, written and directed by Louis C.K., who eventually became president of comedy. But that description back there also fits Freddy Got Fingered. Directed by, co-written by, and starring Tom Green, famous for his strange and surprisingly popular MTV man-on-the-street show, Freddy Got Fingered upped Green’s penchants for irony and gross-out humor. It more or less killed Green’s career for a while and became shorthand for shitty movies until Gigli replaced it in hearts and minds a couple of years later.

The plot: Finally leaving home at age 28, Gordo Brody (Green) drives to Hollywood to get a TV cartoon show made out of some of his drawings, but he thoroughly pisses off a studio executive (Anthony Michael Hall during his frightening agro phrase). Abandoning his day job at a surreal cheese sandwich factory populated by slack-jawed old people who don’t mind when Gordo sticks cheese in their faces, he moves back to Portland, and back home with his parents. He doesn’t have any ambition besides animation, which drives his father (Rip Torn, delightfully overacting as usual) crazy, leading him to destroy Gordo’s skateboard half-pipe. Gordo gets even by getting his father arrested for “fingering” his other adult son Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a presumed sexual act that is never quite explained. The dad gets arrested, Freddy gets sent to a special home, and Gordo’s mother (Airplane!’s Julie Haggerty) hooks up with Shaquille O’Neal (Shaquille O’Neal).

Just to be clear, that plot is incredibly loose and more occasional than anything, merely something resembling a familiar narrative structure to put on the DVD box. The real point of this movie is to allow Green to compound weird bits upon weird bits that simultaneously amuse, horrify, and inspire. These are scenes that people making other gross-out comedies may have thought of, but wouldn’t possibly film, because it would be too gross or too polarizing. Tom Green, however, doesn’t care, and it’s almost an act of cinematic bravery when Gordo delivers a baby, slopping blood all over the walls of a hospital room before, against the vocal wishes of the mother, cutting the umbilical cord with his teeth.

Sure, Freddy Got Fingered is at least in part a gross-out comedy, which was big at the time — comedies of the era routinely featured young men having sex with pie, or young men’s ejaculate getting caught in the hair of their dates, for example. But Freddy Got Fingered is also totally ahead of its time; it’s highly ironic, self-aware, and an early entry in the “alt comedy” movement that would eventually catch on with people who know what’s up. That forward-thinking tone doomed it to failure, as did the fact that The Tom Green Show had been off the air for more than a year by April 2001, when Freddy Got Fingered was released, and the public had worn tired of Green’s off-putting, idiosyncratic, square-baiting shtick long before that.

I am solidly in the minority on this film. “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,” so said Roger Ebert in his zero-star review, which for the record is two stars less than he gave John Tucker Must Die. It even beat Glitter for Worst Picture at the Razzie Awards. Green beat Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck for Worst Actor! Green, because he’s awesome, actually attended the 2002 Razzies, becoming the first Razzie winner to show up and accept his prize.

But Freddy Got Fingered isn’t a terrible movie — it’s just baffling and non-formulaic. It takes sight gags that feel like they could come from a silent film and it amps them up to utterly ridiculous proportions. It’s downright visionary for Green to find a dead deer on the side of the road and put it on like a cape, or for Green to lick the exposed bone after his friend (Harland Williams) suffers a brutal skateboarding injury, or for Green to manually stimulate a horse while crying out, “I’m a farmer, Daddy!” Yes, it’s funny to jerk off of a horse, but it’s also anti-comedy, comparable to Andy Kaufman or ‘70s Steve Martin. It just came out in a time in which anti-comedy wasn’t ringing many people’s bells.

But there’s good news: due to the abysmal public response to Freddy Got Fingered, the pay-in to see the movie, or reassess it is minimal. You can purchase a copy the way I did: in a giant cardboard bin full of $3 DVDs at a gas station. 20th Century Fox’s write-off  is your gain.

Brian Boone wrote this book, among other things, and yes, he would like some saus-a-ges.

Reconsidering Freddy Got Fingered