Box Office Failures Week: Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

Most of the time when I discuss movies on this site, I share how many Razzies the movie won. The celebrities who win these awards rarely show up and never dignify this honor. But not tom Green. When Freddy Got Fingered won Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor, Worst Film, Worst Director and Worst Screen Couple, Green rolled up on his own red carpet, wearing a tuxedo and riding in a white Cadillac. He said, “When we set out to make this film we wanted to win a Razzie, so this is a dream come true for me”. Then he played the harmonica until security dragged him offstage.

Nathan Rabin’s columns at the AV Club and his book My Year of Flops are a big reason that I began to write about movies. And if you read his review of Freddy Got Fingered, you’ll see some line — I hope — to what I try to accomplish here. There are some movies that got unfavorably mauled. And there are some movies that are just messes. But sometimes, a glorious mess is way more entertaining than a vanilla romcom.

Rabin refers to this movie 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.”

He also referred to it as “less as a conventional comedy than as a borderline Dadaist provocation, a $15 million prank at the studio’s expense.”

Bingo.

There was an NC-17 version of this movie that Green described as “porn with murder,” ending with a child being torn apart by a propeller. There was also a three-minute long PG version, as that’s all that made the cuts.

Yes, this is not a movie for everyone. Also, it’s nearly not a movie for anyone.

28-year-old cartoonist Gordon “Gord” Brody (Green) leaves his parents Jim and Julie (a manic Rip Torn and the always wonderful to see Julie Hagerty) behind to head off to Hollywood, leaving in the Le Baron that they give him and finding a job in a cheese sandwich factory. Literally, this Hollywood dream of being an animator lasts at least five minutes of the film, which is mostly a series of rapid-fire gross outs and go nowhere non sequiturs that redefine the word non sequitur.

Gord convinces the secretary (Drew Barrymore, one-time wife of Green) of animation CEO Dave Davidson (Anthony Michael Hall, now the inverse of his nerd personna) to give him a job. He doesn’t understand anything Gord shows him, like a bag of bloody eyes holding a balloon. In fact, he tells him, “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.”

I can only assume that these were actual studio notes on this film turned into some meta commentary on the nature of art.

Gord gives up on life, quits his job and returns to live with his parents. One day, while skating with his friend Darren (Harland Williams, who also made some movies that no one understood either like RocketMan), who breaks his leg while skating. At the hospital, Gord meets his dream girl, Betty (Marisa Coughlan, Super Troopers), a wheelchair-bound scientist nurse who yearns to create a rocket-powered wheelchair when she isn’t begging to have a bamboo cane smashed against her non-working legs and indulging in her love of fellatio. Yes, I just wrote that sentence.

As a result of Gord’s dad insulting Betty in a restaurant and the ensuing brawl, a family therapy session leads to Gord falsely accusing his father of fingering his adult brother Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas from the American Pie films). This ends up sending Freddy to a home for abused boys — despite him being in his mid-20’s — and Julie leaving Jim for Shaq.

Still with me?

Somehow, Gord goes back to Hollywood and pitches a show based on his relationship with his father called Zebras In America. It gets picked up after his father bursts into the office and tries to kill our protagonist. The million dollar payday is used to thank Betty with an elaborate romantic gesture — a speech set to “When A Man Loves A Woman” while a helicopter drowns out any noise — and moving his parents to Pakistan, where father and son are kidnapped for over a year.

Despite supposedly ruining Green’s career — cancer took him out of commission soon after the film* and he still does well as a stand-up to this day — this movie wasn’t a commercial failure. It earned $14,254,993 domestically — and $78,259 overseas, which is hilarious to me — and $24,300,000 from DVD sales. Green opined that his under 17 year old audience probably snuck into the film, so the real box office may have been even higher.

That said, the critics absolutely savaged this movie.

Roger Ebert gave the film a zero-star rating, as it was one of his most hated films of all time. He said, “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. 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.”

But wait — what happened over the next few years to make Ebert reflect and say, “I remember Freddy Got Fingered more than a year later. I refer to it sometimes. It is a milestone. 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.”

How many movies are you going to see where the lead cuts open roadkill to get inside it as if it were a tauntaun or delivers a baby by twirling it over his head? Not many.

To me, this movie is really an absurdist send-up of 2000’s gross out comedies. It’s a prank — a way to spend $14 million on something completely surreal. I can’t even imagine what the studio thought when they saw this. And yet it predates the Adult Swim and blip viral humor that the world of 2020 enjoys.

I love the names this movie enjoyed around the world, such as Freddy Leaves Home (Chile), I’m Eating Freddy (Hungary), Freddy Realized (Argentina), Fingers Playing (Finland, obviously taken from the “Daddy Do You Want Some Sausages” piano scene), Freddy’s Obscene Relationship (Japan), A Loose Guy (Poland), Freddy In Trouble (Portugal), Freddy You Go! (Russia), Extremely Fat Movie (Serbia), Freddy the Stupid (Spain) and — best of all — France’s Va Te Faire Foutre Freddy! (Go and Fuck Yourself Freddy!). This is only topped by Bulgaria’s Fucked Freddy.

For some reason, I love this movie. Maybe because it’s so bad. Perhaps because it was a middle finger from Green to the entertainment industry that suddenly had embraced him. Who knows — I think it’s because this movie simply was made, despite every reason in the world that it never could or should.

I also just realized that I wrote so many words about this movie and didn’t mention how many animal genitals are touched, fondled and played with in it. It’s gross the first time, repetitive the next few times and then becomes charming, if it can be, after that.

*The surgery Freddy watches is actual footage of Green getting a lymph node taken out due to testicular cancer.

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