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CCFF 2015: CALL ME LUCKY review

May 7, 2015

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produced by: Charlie Fonville & Clinton Trucks
directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
rating: Unrated
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: January 27, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival); May 2, 2015 (Chicago Critics Film Festival)

 

“He’s like a character in a John Ford movie, this combination of anger and sentimentality.”

Anyone with knowledge of the Boston stand-up scene of the late 70s and most of the 80s, documented so well in the 2003 film “When Stand Up Stood Out”, will immediately recognize the name Barry Crimmins. Like many people who knew and remembered Crimmins’ stand up, which was filled to the breaking point with a political vitriol unlike any other at the time, I always wondered what had happened to this firebrand who wielded words like a weapon. Leave it to his good friend Bobcat Goldthwait to fill us in on what Barry’s been up to since he more or less turned his back on stand-up in the early 90s.

Goldthwait has morphed into an impressively assured filmmaker, and was wise to mine a subject near and dear to his heart for his first documentary, which paints a picture of a man who nobody, not even his closest friends, really knew.

“Call Me Lucky” is a powerfully moving and hilariously funny look at a man who has lost none of his passion, just redirected it into areas that speak more closely to him and his experiences on this planet. As my grandmother was fond of saying, Crimmins is still full of “piss and vinegar”, he’s simply removed himself from the spotlight and channeled it into something remarkably worthwhile.

Comprised of a number of talking head interviews with huge comedy names who were influenced by Crimmins like Patton Oswalt, David Cross, and Marc Maron, as well as a number of his contemporaries like Kevin Meaney, Jimmy Tingle, and a scene-stealing Lenny Clarke, “Call Me Lucky” follows Crimmins through a career filled with button-pushing bits and bridge-burning antics. While the film does come dangerously close to hagiography at a number of points, it also shows the audience a man worthy of such adulation, not just because of his groundbreaking work on stage, but more because of his advocacy work off stage.

 The early parts of the film cover Crimmins’ rise from rabble-rouser to self-appointed king of the Ding Ho Chinese restaurant and comedy club, and these sections of the film play like gangbusters. Footage of Crimmins’ stand-up, where he sported a gigantic mustache and was rarely seen without a cigarette and a beer, helps the audience to get a handle on just how funny, insightful, and often agitated he could be.

 

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A little bit past the midway point of the film, however, it takes a turn into some pretty dark territory that is hinted at in the early-goings, but once fleshed-out, turns the film on a dime.

To say anymore about the revelations that await this film’s audience would be a crime, so I’m going to artfully dodge any potential for spoilers. Needless to say, Crimmins comedy – and the dark streak that runs through it – was informed by an event from his childhood, one that he opted to work through in public rather than keep buried as so many others do.

Crimmins’ demeanor, along with the aid of a close friend at the helm of the film, gives us a three-dimensional look at a man at war with everything, even himself. Were this made by someone who didn’t have such a strong connection to the subject, it may have probed the depths a bit more and avoided a bit of idol worship, the two most common complaints I’ve heard about the film, but it wouldn’t have been as deeply felt and personal a film.

Goldthwait is nothing if not a master of subversion, and here he continues that mischievous streak. It takes a backseat in the second half of the film, but that has more to do with the serious tone demanded by that section’s content. One of the film’s most powerful moments is nicely aided by Goldthwait dropping all sound, even ambient noise, off the soundtrack and allowing the weight of a particular revelation to linger with the audience. It’s eerily effective and nothing if not potent, and it shows his gift as a filmmaker for always managing to find a strong tone and bolster it with everything in his bag of tricks. This also nicely compliments Crimmins own outlook on life, which seems to follow the idea that the best way to overcome adversity is to mock it into submission.

“Call Me Lucky” is as complete a filmgoing experience as one could hope for, keeping a strong hand that guides it toward the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy. Goldthwait continues to grow in new and interesting ways as a filmmaker, treating his characters, both fictional and real, with a loving respect that radiates out to the audience. It’s funny to think how far he’s come since Shakes the Clown”, a film I’ve always defended when given the chance, but much like a clown, he never lets you forget about the air of melancholy lying right below the laughter.

As for Crimmins, he is a worthy subject of a documentary in every way, and I can only hope that this film brings his work to new fans. So few comedians are able to go beyond laughter and make you feel something, and the ones that do deserve every ounce of adulation headed their way.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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