4 out of 5 stars

Tom Green finds that if he doesn’t reference his 2001 film during his stand-up comedy, he’s inevitably heckled with quotes. All references that bewilder Generation Z, who have no idea who Tom Green is, although they may have heard about Freddy Got Fingered‘s reputation. And some people still obsess over the ‘Bad Movie Holy Grail’ that Tom Green wrote, directed, and starred in at the turn of the millennium. A culture detached from the early-2000s naturally ask ‘how did this get made?’, but for those who enjoy Adult Swim’s Eric Andre and Tim and Eric today, Tom Green was the grandfather to every 21st-century ‘alt comedy’ star.

The Tom Green Show (1994-96) began on public access television as a variety series with music, sketches, and a live audience. In 1996 he sold a pilot to The Comedy Network and, after two years there, his show moved to MTV in ’99 and quickly went global. How big did Tom Green become? In 2000, he was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, referenced heavily in Eminem’s smash hit “The Real Slim Shady”, and got married to Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore the following year. Everyone seemed to love him, so what exactly was his ground-breaking comedy? Well, he painted pornography on his dad’s car (labelling it the ‘Slut Mobile’), put a severed cow head in his dad’s bed because he was a fan of The Godfather (1972), and he fucked a dead moose. He was fully clothed when he did so, but when phrased like that, of course people talked about Tom Green!

Then Green got sick. His diagnosis with testicular cancer in 2000 was as abrupt as his skyrocketing success, and his treatment halted production of his show. “I don’t talk about it a lot but it took me probably close to ten years to fully recover from that surgery. I had a lot of pain.” Green’s lows continued, as MTV debuted Jackass six months later and it became a $500M franchise by elaborating on his type of crazy antics. He then divorced Drew Barrymore the next year, and between all of that he released the only movie he’s ever directed: Freddy Got Fingered.

Green stars as Gordon “Gord” Brody, a slacker and wannabe cartoonist. When his plan to find success in Los Angeles fails, Gord moves back in with his parents, bringing his already turbulent relationship with his dour father, Jim (Rip Torn), to boiling point. It’s a simple story and yet one Wikipedia lists as an “experimental surreal comedy”, which has also been nastily labelled “the second worse thing to happen in 2001.” This is arguably a more controversial joke than anything in the film itself, but if fucking a dead moose rattled your sensibilities… buckle your seatbelt!

We open with Gord maniacally laughing at his own drawings while screaming “you stupid, you stupid!” As we later learn, his cartoons are stupid, but throughout the film, Green confronts us with this constant fourth-wall breaking. Do we laugh at him, or is he laughing at us? When he skates to the bus station to meet his parents before he leaves, his parents stop him, saying “you’re not taking that bus to Los Angeles.” Green flatly replies “you bought me a ticket on this bus to Los Angeles.” His parents drove there to reveal his new car, but they still bought the ticket, and could’ve revealed this at home, and somehow his brother went with them but didn’t know about this. Green wrestles with screenwriting conformity and Freddy Got Fingered becomes a middle finger to anyone expecting normality.

Gord simply barges into the animation studio, bamboozling security (“I’ve got the bag [gibberish] Japan four”), and insisting to the secretary (Barrymore) that he’s the coroner who has to tell the boss his wife’s dead. As Barrymore grieves, a sombre piano track plays and the colour grading changes to a cinematic blue to sell the blatant emotional manipulation. He then accosts the boss (Anthony Michael Hall), while dressed as an English bobby, and shows him his portfolio, which garners the straight-faced criticism “your drawing’s are pretty good but it doesn’t make any sense, it’s fucking stupid!” Without winking to the camera, Gord then sulks home in a depression unable to give meaning to his art.

This is where I’d argue Freddy Got Fingered is attempting a genuine message about artistic struggle. Jackass has released three major feature films (a fourth is due soon), so why can’t Gord simply succeed without needing to make sense? If anything, the few mundane elements of the film are what reveal Green’s motivation; his younger brother Freddy has a job at the bank and lives in his own place, but Gord recognises it’s a shitty one-room apartment and he’s so broke he has to eat breakfast with his parents. Despite Freddy and their dad “doing something with [their] lives”, they don’t have anything meaningful to show for their efforts, which is what Gord truly strives for.

There are structural pacing issues that bury the core intents of the film. The entire middle act bounces around disorganised comedy sequences; Freddy himself barely appears in the clearly truncated ‘fingering’ that the title suggests. After Gord gets “revenge” on his dad by claiming “he’s a molester, a child molester!!”, the 25-year-old Freddy’s taken by authorities to a dream-like institute where kids sing nursery rhymes while watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) on TV. Subplots come and go, too, like the helicopter rental and the bag of jewels Gord spontaneously buys and forgets about.

Green claims the film was butchered by focus groups. Yes, Freddy Got Fingered was test-screened and somehow these insane 87-minutes survived to the screen. There was a total half-hour cut out, and Green had edited a far darker, more uncomfortable tone that would’ve framed his sensibilities better. One ridiculous excision was an entire character story because of an on-screen gay kiss, and people objected to that over Green jacking off an elephant and spraying cum over his father. Green did admit cuts were made to avoid an NC-17 rated version, which was described as “porn with murder.”

I’m dancing around the degeneracy. Gord delivers a baby, bites through the umbilical cord, and swings it around splattering a ward of screaming people in blood. Gord’s 10-year-old neighbour trips and smacks his head on a car door and, despite just witnessing Gord wearing a roadkill deer and getting ploughed by a truck to just shake it off like Bugs Bunny, this child screams in agony as he spits up bloodied teeth. Gord’s new wheelchair-bound girlfriend Betty (Marisa Coughlan) begs him to cane her legs, and when presented by his sudden wealth proclaims “I don’t care about jewels… I just want to suck your cock.” Green also peppers in plenty of less intense gags that had me chuckling along: a waiter breaking up a fight with “this is a fancy restaurant!”, his Bojack Horseman-esque cartoon Zebras in America, and “the backwards man” still makes me laugh every time I think of them.

Looking back, it feels unfair for Green to have been martyred for the wave of gross-out frat-boy comedies that Hollywood was churning out. Rather than acting in a vacuum, Green was essentially biting the hand that feeds him in mocking this money-making formula. American Pie (1999) had opened the floodgates, National Lampoon had traded the family-focused Vacation series for Van Wilder (2002), and the Farrelly brothers were right in the middle of their uproarious heights of Dumb and Dumber (1994) and There’s Something About Mary (1998) to the strained snickers of Shallow Hal (2001) and Stuck on You (2003). I can’t even make the argument that Green was attempting to push things as far as the system would allow because, honestly, I find the cartoonish scenarios less cringe-worthy than the outrageous antics of Jim Carrey sucking on a lactating tit in Me, Myself & Irene (2000) or Heather Graham cutting off Chris Klein’s ear in Say It Isn’t So (2001).

American Pie has been the most enduring movie from this era because we had empathy for its characters. After Eugene Levy walks in on his son fucking an apple pie, the two have a meaningful conversation about sexual maturity. With humiliation comes humility. We got the belated American Reunion (2012) because audiences were so endeared with these people. The imitators crashed and burned so horrendously because anyone can think of a humiliating scenario… but can you write a good screenplay around them? You can easily argue Green had scraped the bottom of the barrel with an apathetic mean-spirited cash-in, but it’s entirely his voice and that authenticity appeals to me more than most of those other films.

Critics were less kind. Roger Ebert famously scored it zero stars and decreed, “this movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”. Green took the nuclear fallout as well as anyone could; by accepting his Razzie award in person, where he played the harmonica and didn’t stop until security dragged him off stage. But with a budget of $14M, it grossed $14.3M, before making $24.3M on home video. Green claims it was a low-budget comedy that broke even so did perfectly fine financially, his only real complaint when people roast his efforts.

When reviewing Stealing Harvard (2002), Ebert wandered away from the forgettable studio comedy and mused on its co-star, Green, saying “I remember Freddy Got Fingered more than a year later. And for all its sins, it was at least an ambitious movie; a go-for-broke attempt to accomplish something. It failed, but it has not left me convinced that Tom Green doesn’t have good work in him. Anyone with his nerve and total lack of taste is sooner or later going to make a movie worth seeing.” Green had already achieved that, in a sense, having made the MTV special The Tom Green Cancer Special (2000) to document his surgery—complete with graphic real-life medical footage. Time listed it as one of the best TV shows of the year, and it was nominated for a Peabody Award.

Eric Andre has made five seasons of his own show dedicated to abusing celebrities with gross-out humour, and he’s just released the hidden camera stunt film Bad Trip (2021). Sacha Baron Cohen also made his long-awaited sequel to Borat (2012), which made news for the shock-comedy tricks being pulled on political leaders. As he’s matured over the past few decades, the world might be more accepting of the chaotic resurrection of Tom Green. But while he’s teased a longer Director’s Cut of Freddy Got Fingered, and even threatened a sequel, Green’s enjoying doing his stand-up comedy and seems perfectly content sitting somewhere deep inside the barrel.

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frame rated divider retrospective

Cast & Crew

director: Tom Green.
writerss: Tom Green & Derek Harvie.
starring: Tom Green, Rip Torn, Marisa Coughlan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Julie Hagerty & Harland Williams.