One of the more surreal aspects of this project has been running around Chicago desperately trying to secure DVDs to movies that are inherently unpopular. Of course, if I were Anna Wintour, I'd simply snap my fingers and bark, "Sour Grapes better be in my hands in 15 minutes or Christmas is cancelled!," and Larry David would magically appear five minutes later to personally hand-deliver a copy. But I'm not, so I spent much of yesterday hopping from Blockbuster to Blockbuster and Best Buy to Best Buy in a futile search for David's ill-fated foray into feature film. After a while I began to suspect that David used his Seinfeld windfall to buy back all existing copies of Sour Grapes and have them buried in a giant landfill next to all those unused copies of the E.T Atari game.
I never did track down a copy o' Sour Grapes so I'm going to sub in a suggestion from my estimable colleague Scott Tobias, who not only serves as our Film Editor but also does a damn fine job copy-editing this column and editing out all my unmotivated Irish bashing. As long as Scott is on the job, you'll never have to worry about me sticking it to those rotten, drunken, leprechaun-loving potato thieves. [Ed: I'll let this one slide.] He's the thin blue line protecting the readership of the A.V. Club from the grammar and punctuation of a proud alumnus of the Chicago public school system. Incidentally, if you can spot the origins of the "unmotivated Irish bashing" line and the other thousand or so pop-culture references littered throughout My Year Of Flops and send me an itemized list at the end of this project, I will personally handwrite a letter to your parents telling them that their child needs to get out more, find some hobbies, and get a nice girlfriend or boyfriend.
Today's My Year Of Flops entry, the notorious 2001 comedy Freddy Got Fingered has a bifurcated reputation as both one of the worst films ever made and a movie so doggedly, singularly bizarre that it's hard to believe it ever got green-lit. Studios exist precisely to keep films this audacious, original, and transgressive from ever hitting theaters. I've never seen so much as a single episode of any of Tom Green's various shows, but I watched Fingered with open-mouthed admiration. It's the kind of movie you feel the need to watch again immediately just to make sure you didn't hallucinate the entire thing the first time around.
Fingered casts director and co-writer Green, the young people's favorite, as a 28-eight-year old aspiring animator who heads to Hollywood armed with little but a dream, a drawing of a bag of dripping baboon eyeballs attached to a balloon, and a complete lack of social skills.
Green bullies his way into the office of animation executive Anthony Michael Hall by pretending that Hall's wife has died a hideous death, then dresses up as an English bobby and harangues Hall in a restaurant. Hall looks at Green's drawing and issues a stern judgment: "It doesn't make any sense. It's fucking stupid. What you need here is elevation. There has to be something happening here that's actually funny." It's not hard to imagine studio executives saying the exact same thing to Green upon receiving the Fingered script. Thank God he didn't listen to reason. Or common sense. Or decency.
Oh, did I mention the part where Green pulls over to the side of the road, sees a giant horse cock, and grasps it lustily? It didn't really have anything to do with anything, but then neither does most of Fingered. It's a movie for a YouTube era of short attention spans and ADD; just about any ten minute block functions as a perversely fascinating, surrealistic mini-movie with a weird anti-logic all its own.
Fingered introduces a relatively straightforward plot (dreamer moves to Hollywood to make it as an animator and toils at a cheese sandwich factory until he gets his chance) solely so it can discard it haphazardly early on. Green's Hollywood adventures are pretty much over in about 15 minutes, at which point the film turns into a black-comic psychodrama about Green's hate-hate relationship with father Rip Torn.
Of course, nobody plays drunken, profane, rage-choked authority figures quite like Rip Torn. Torn attacks his role here like he's performing in an avant-garde art movie rather than a gross-out vehicle for a wacky MTV personality. He's right: any resemblance between Fingered and a conventional studio comedy is purely coincidental.
Green's rampaging Id recalls such beloved man-children as Pee-Wee Herman and Wayne Campbell, but where Pee Wee and Wayne represent the innocent side of childhood, Green is dark, twisted, and evil. To get back at his dad he convinces a psychiatrist that Torn is molesting Green's straight-arrow younger brother (Eddie Kaye Thomas), who is subsequently placed in the Institute For Sexually Molested Children despite clearly being in his mid-20s. He encourages mom Julie Hagerty to have sex with basketball players and Greeks.
Green and love interest Marisa Coughlan meet cute when he runs into Coughlin at a hospital playing with little containers of cream and they have the following exchange: Green: Are hospitals always this fun? Coughlan: No, sometimes people die of cancer.
Coughlan is a blowjob-obsessed disabled woman and amateur rocket scientist who derives sexual satisfaction from being whacked in the legs with a bamboo rod. Yep, that old cliché. Sprinkled throughout Fingered are gross-out setpieces executed with utter fearlessness: Green delivers a baby, then chews through the umbilical chord and swings the baby around like a lasso. Green takes Hall's advice that he needs to "get inside" his animal characters by slicing open a dead moose and running around with it on top of him. Then there's the queasy bit where Torn drunkenly pulls down his pants and tauntingly asks his son to sodomize him.
In perhaps my favorite scene, Green delivers his big speech to Coughlan while "When A Man Loves A Woman" wails on the soundtrack and the deafening roar of a nearby helicopter threatens to drown him out. In moments like this, the film has more in common with early Godard than Farrelly Brothers knockoffs.
Did I mention all the gratuitous horse cocks? You'd have to hunt down bestiality porn to find so many throbbing horse cocks or see a grown man fondle the genitalia of large mammals so flagrantly. Among other things, Fingered is a film about a man-child who expresses his love for the animal kingdom in wildly inappropriate ways.
Watching Fingered, I wondered what the studio notes to Green must have been like ("Do you have to have so many giant animal cocks? Doesn't the first giant animal cock get the point across? And wouldn't the lead character be more sympathetic if he didn't falsely accuse his father of molesting his son? And the part where Coughlan is called a "retard slut": isn't that potentially off-putting to women in the coveted 18 to 35 demographic?")
In my line of work, it's utterly rare and wondrous to witness the emergence of a dazzlingly original comic voice. I experienced that glorious sensation watching Fingered. If you were to give a talented but deeply disturbed 12-year-old $15 million to make a movie, I suspect it'd be a lot like Fingered. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything remotely like it. Green's directorial debut boasts balls of such unprecedented size and grandeur that they should be mounted and displayed at the Smithsonian.
I think it helps to see Fingered less as a conventional comedy than as a borderline Dadaist provocation, a $15 million prank at the studio's expense. Fingered didn't invent the gross-out comedy, but it elevated it to unprecedented heights of depravity. It might have killed Green's career, but oh what a way to go.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success