Freddy Got Fingered is generally considered one of the worst films ever made. Roger Ebert said it “doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel… This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.” Leonard Maltin called it “the poster child for all that’s wrong with movie comedy.” CNN’s film critic Paul Clinton said it was “quite simply the worst movie ever released by a major studio in Hollywood history.” The Toronto Star literally gave it negative one star out of five.
There was some dissent at the time – most notably from AO Scott, who wrote that the film’s “comic heart consists of a series of indescribably loopy, elaborately conceived happenings that are at once rigorous and chaotic, idiotic and brilliant” – and since, including a glowing retrospective by Nathan Rabin in The AV Club. But it has yet to reach the critical mass of a cult following to get a director’s cut released, so I’m here to do my part.
Freddy Got Fingered is a masterpiece.
Tom Green is a comedian who, for a brief blip in the late nineties to early 2000s, was kind of a big deal. He had a show on MTV called The Tom Green Show (“this is The Tom Green Show, it’s not The Green Tom Show, this is my favourite show, because it is my show”) which was popular enough with the youths that they let him make a movie. “I was being offered these other movies. I didn’t really want to make them, but I did see the opportunity to make the movie,” Green said. So he co-wrote Freddy Got Fingered with his friend Derek Harvie, then directed and starred in it.
He plays Gord, a twenty-eight-year-old aspiring animator. There’s very little I can give as a plot description because if you’ve seen any film ever, you’ll fill in the blanks where you shouldn’t: if I wrote that Freddy Got Fingered opens with Gord moving to LA to pursue his dream of being an animator, you’ll imagine it’ll be shaped like a “goes to LA to pursue their dream” movie. But Gord comes back from LA within the first fifteen minutes. If I told you Gord falsely accuses his father (Rip Torn) of molesting his brother Freddy, you might imagine that it’s a pitch-black comedy about the unwieldly consequences of that lie. But it just sort of happens. If I told you Gord starts going out with a girl in a wheelchair and later has to win her back, you might think it’s a romcom, or even that he learns a lesson about disability or something, but if I told you that a major plot element is that she gets off on having her legs whacked with a bamboo stick, you mightn’t be so sure. She is also, for the record, an amateur rocket scientist who dreams of making a rocket-powered wheelchair.
If the film is about something, it’s about Gord wanting to be successful at animation so his dad will be proud of him. One of the first scenes in the film – where Gord skateboards from his parents’ house to meet his parents at the bus station, and then goes to get on the bus with the ticket his parents bought him, until they reveal that they bought him a car – hilariously emphasises this, when Gord and his dad just say the word “proud” back and forth to each other for a bit. The subplot is about him getting together with Betty, the girl in the wheelchair. It is, on the face of it, a 1990s Farrelly Brothers film, or one of their more poorly-made imitators: the story of a slacker who ends with getting the girl and the dream interspersed with big comedic setpieces, mixing gross-out comedy and sweet sentimentality.
But Freddy Got Fingered is also one of the weirdest things you’ll ever see. To watch it, Nathan Rabin wrote, is to “witness the emergence of a dazzlingly original comic voice.” It’s the kind of film that you can’t believe you’re seeing, can’t believe ever got made: At one point, Gord sees an erect horse at a stud farm from the road, and pulls over, screaming, so he can jerk it off. He cuts open a buck and wears its skin. He tapes an umbilical cord to his belly button (“Didn’t you, uh, ever have that… removed?”). He does this:
There are signs of studio interference, in inevitable panic of realising what they’d spent their money on. Edits were made to get an R rating instead of an NC-17. (On the DVD, there’s a “PG cut” that runs to three minutes.) It’s hard to pinpoint what gets dropped because material got cut and what gets dropped because that’s part of the joke, but the Freddy subplot was almost certainly more developed in the original cut, the scene at the cheese sandwich factory probably involved Green’s take on the I Love Lucy assembly line scene, and when the kid gets torn apart by an aeroplane propeller – his guts showered onto the crowd – there definitely wouldn’t have been ADR of the kid telling his dad that he’s all right.
It’s kind of amazing that Freddy Got Fingered survived those edits intact. It is a film so delightfully strange that sincere attempts to make it likeable and less extreme left us with a film so bizarre and extreme that I spent the whole time thinking I can’t believe this exists.
“It doesn’t make any sense, okay? It’s fucking stupid, okay?” the CEO of an animation studio (Anthony Michael Hall) says about Gord’s drawings, “There has to be something that happens that’s actually funny. What the fuck is happening here?”
Gord tries to explain that it’s a banana tied with a string to a bag of baboon eyes, dripping with sauce. Lots of people have pointed out how easy it is to imagine the same conversation between Tom Green and the studio executives during the making of Freddy Got Fingered, a fucking stupid movie that doesn’t make sense. And like Gord’s drawing of a banana tied with a string to a bag of baboon eyes, it’s hilarious.
“The day may come when Freddy Got Fingered is seen as a milestone of neo-surrealism,” Roger Ebert wrote at the time, “The day may never come when it is seen as funny.” And yes, a lot of reevaluations of Freddy Got Fingered focus on it as a surreal, Dadaist prank on the studio. All of that stuff is absolutely true: one of the central jokes of the film is that it exists at all. It’s got lots of metacommentary and “mistakes” to drive that home: near the end, someone literally holds up a sign that says “When the fuck is this movie going to end?” Freddy Got Fingered is a mad, mad thing, that slipped through the cracks just enough for Tom Green to give everyone the finger before he exiled himself from Hollywood forever. It’s a satire of 1990s gross-out comedies and a piece of surrealist art. I’ve never seen anything like it, and neither have you.
But it also made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. It has bits as instantly classic as backwards man and like, the entire scene in the restaurant, but if I have to pick something here’s Gord bringing nonsense graphs on his date. It is in such dire need of a reevaluation, because its fucked-up absurdity, its anti-humour, its particular shade of gross (with nary a shit or a fart in sight), and the way its gags happen out of nowhere and with no consequence, have become imbedded parts of the comedy landscape, especially for millennials. I see its surreal anti-humour in Tim and Eric and a generation of rip-offs. I see its absurd tangents in old Lonely Island bits (especially the “cool beans” scene from Hot Rod) and a generation of rip-offs. There’s also Jackass, which basically just copied Green’s schtick, and the legion of imitators it set off.
But nothing dims Freddy Got Fingered’s power to make your jaw drop. And more importantly, nothing dims how wildly funny it is: the kind of film that you could quote and reference all day and not run out of material, even though it’s only 83 minutes long.
“I think a lot of people would have rolled over… You don’t argue with the studio. You just say yes. We dug our heels in and we did it.” Green said, “It was the perfect storm of opportunity and desire to make a crazy movie.”