What: Film Review
Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Produced by: Charlie Fonville, Clinton Trucks
Featuring: Barry Crimmins, Bobcat Goldthwait, Marc Maron, Steven Wright, Lenny Clarke, Margaret Cho, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Meaney, Tom Kenny
Running Time (in min.): 106 minutes
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival
When the comedian Barry Crimmins appeared on Marc Maron’s “WTF with Marc Maron” Podcast in late 2013, it had only been a few months since a new Pope was elected, and the institutional health of the Catholic Church was once again in international news. At least, that was the case for American media, whose proprietors and audiences alike were still reeling (less from surprise than from personal shame) from ongoing allegations of high-level sexual abuse cover-ups. Pope Francis’s election came at a time when his predecessor, Benedict XVI, still stank of cowardice, coldness, and deceit.
Pope Benedict’s resignation reminded the world that the Church operated under corrupt and sometimes disgusting abuses of power, but Francis has, in some ways, turned the tide. As Popes go, the media sees him not just as a “liberal” – if the blogosphere is to be trusted, he’s downright Enlightened by pleasantly ambiguous views on queer relationships, international warfare, and gender roles in the West.
Still, not even a figurehead of such public renown and utopian dialogue could curb the vitriol that has spewed from Crimmins like a sputtering volcano since the 1970s. A legendary stand-up-cum-pundit, profiled in the newest film by the gifted Bobcat Goldthwait (whose God Bless America and World’s Greatest Dad still hold as some of this millennium’s most ingenious satires), has been speaking out against organized religion for decades. Unlike, for example, his peer Bill Maher, Crimmins operates with a measure of hostility and flagrant mistrust that has made his performances somewhat unpalatable to the general public. As of the time of this writing in 2015, no program, film, or webseries has really let Crimmins loose on the public. But all that’s about to change with the release of Goldthwait’s documentary, Call Me Lucky.
Crimmins’s appeal started to come into full force when he spoke, intimately and cogently, with Maron (who appears to powerful effect himself as one of the film’s many comedian talking heads.) Goldthwait takes us through his subject’s reminiscences of the 1980’s Boston comedy circuit, his testimonials before Congress in the following decade (more on that in a moment), and the many projects (books, columns, radio, live specials) that have solidified his reputation as an irascible, intellectual “comedian’s comedian.”
Goldthwait and his editor Jeff Striker – whose work here is elegant, swift, and gracious – work candid imagery in with contemporary testimonials to Crimmins’s talent from friends of more popular stature like David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Margaret Cho, and Steven Wright (Goldthwait also appears in select moments to charming effect, reminding us of the electricity he brought to the movie screen as an actor). But what the filmmakers hold until the second act is the admission that this film is neither a softened, flattering portrait, nor a comedy in any conventional sense; rather, it’s one of the saddest and most emotionally stunning nonfiction biographies in many a moon. Crimmins, a drunken, aggressive, and even perhaps nasty son-of-a-gun at his worst, is its very human heart.
Part of this “unknown legend’s” appeal comes from a distressing element of his mythology, one best left for viewers to discover when the film hits U.S. theaters on August 7th 2015. Suffice it to say that the comedian’s routine and life were equally shaped by an unforgiving childhood, and that his presentations to Congress were part of a heroic advocacy campaign. In the moments that Goldthwait and Striker link court footage with Crimmins in the current day, and Charlyne Yi’s tender score becomes the film’s driving force, Call Me Lucky transforms from what otherwise would have looked like an entry in the American Masters series to become a miserably funny, and mercifully idiosyncratic, spectacle.
Appropriately, Goldthwait’s direction is forceful, forward, and tight, with only a hint of his usual rapscallionism. And Yi’s score is a downloadable gem. That the filmmakers manage to parrot their subject through formal structure and aesthetics is significantly impressive, all the more so since most audiences will come to this story having never heard of its main subject. Ever since its World Premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Call Me Lucky has drawn attention to Crimmins that he’s likely never seen before in his life despite the many projects on which he’s embarked. Thanks to Goldthwait and his collaborators, it’s hard not to agree with Maron, Cross, Oswalt and Cho, though: no one deserves this kind of attention more.