If comedian Barry Crimmins’ own words in Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary “Call Me Lucky” are to be believed, he has only two simple requests: to overthrow the government of the United States, and to close the Catholic Church. One clip featured in the film has him opening his act by puffing on a cigar, before proclaiming that he’s “been on a bit of a health kick lately.” That revealing observation is one of only a few moments where this complicated unsung hero of his craft speaks for himself.
It’s unfortunate that the film doesn’t include more footage of his performance skills, to the extent that viewers experiences more commentary about his comedy than the work itself. At the same time, the approach speaks to the obscurity of Crimmins’ career — and it’s just as well, given how many angles of his life the film is interested in exploring — but the drastic tonal discrepancies between the its differing focuses prevent it from fully succeeding as a cohesive portrait.
Much of the early part of the film includes a strong lineup of fellow comedians’ first impressions and understandings of Crimmins’ work, given his influence in building the foundation for the Bostonian stand-up scene and the careers of many recognizable voices in contemporary comedy. As it goes on to examine the progression of Crimmins’ life and career, however, “Call Me Lucky” shifts to a shocking emphasis of the childhood horrors that had robbed him of his innocence so early on. A victim of sexual abuse, Crimmins carried the burden of those experiences into his adulthood — and eventually used them to take on sexual predators in chatrooms during the early days of American Online. The documentary works best as an examination of the more disturbing psychological ingredients that provide the source of Crimmins’ savage wit.
The depth of the comedian’s own trauma illuminates his particular brand of political cynicism, which has always been concerned with marginalized voices. The narrative transition to his childhood experiences mirror a shift in Crimmins’ own career away from comedy and towards public advocacy.
Ultimately, the movie offers a sufficient introduction to Crimmins as both artist and man. Some flourishes, like sparsely used sparse animated sequences to re-enact episodes of his youth, feel out of place with the rest of the portraiture. Crimmins himself has a compelling voice that’s often underutilized in telling his own story. “Call Me Lucky” does justice to Crimmins’ talent, but doesn’t trust its subject enough to tell his own story.
“Call Me Lucky” premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.