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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Call Me Lucky’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Call Me Lucky'

Sleeper of the Week takes a movie that only a few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Call Me Lucky”
Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait
Criticwire Average: A-

Bobcat Goldthwait’s new documentary “Call Me Lucky” shines a light on acclaimed cult comedian Barry Crimmins. Crimmins essentially created the Boston comedy scene in the 1980’s, and made a name for himself with his brand of righteous commentary against corrupt institutions, like the Catholic Church and the U.S. government, as well as speaking out against global and local oppression. However, Crimmins has remained in obscurity for years now as he became reclusive and more disgusted with the Entertainment Industrial Complex, so he’s doomed to be praised by his peers — everyone from Marc Maron to Stephen Wright — and forgotten by the general public. Critics mostly like “Call Me Lucky,” especially praising Goldthwait’s affectionate, personal portrait of Crimmins and his sympathetic depiction of his tragic childhood. Others claim Goldthwait is too close to the material for the doc to ever come across like anything other than a hagiography, and some disliking his handling of Crimmins’ childhood. Nevertheless, “Call Me Lucky” highlights an important and revelatory figure in stand-up comedy history, and it’s worth checking out for that alone.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Simon Abrams, The Village Voice

Docu–character study “Call Me Lucky” expresses a thorny truth that many films about truth-telling artists fail to convey: Anger is appealing because it can sometimes feel cleansing. “Sometimes” is the key word, and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait (“Willow Creek,” “World’s Greatest Dad”) proves he knows it in his keen, evenhanded portrait of Barry Crimmins, a mercurial cult comedian who channeled personal indignation into incendiary political satire. Crimmins is shown confronting his audience for the sake of ridding himself of deep-seated frustration with social institutions — particularly the Catholic Church and the U.S. government — that tacitly condone violence against the people they’re supposed to protect. Crimmins is rightfully valorized in interview segments where colleagues and family members recall his participation in a 1995 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on child pornography, and in documentary footage of recent stand-up performances, where Crimmins takes on Pope Francis and pseudo-enlightened mouth-breathers who think telling un-PC jokes is an act of rebellion. Read more.

Vince Mancini, Uproxx

Barry Crimmins is something of a legend in the Boston comedy scene. He started the Ding Ho, a Chinese restaurant-cum-comedy venue where many notable names cut their teeth, including being the place where Bobcat Goldthwait debuted his growly voice and one of the places where 80s stand-up comedy became “the comedy boom.” Crimmins, in addition to being feared and admired (for his volatile curmudgeonry and for his inherent truthfulness) by a who’s who of comedians you’ve heard of, is also something of a social justice warrior. He didn’t just lampoon Reagan and the Bushes, he put his ass where his mouth was (wait that came out wrong) risking (probably committing) career suicide by doing things like going to Nicaragua to speak on behalf of the Sandinistas. He’s always brutally, darkly straightforward in his views (and sincere) without surrendering his love of the comedic or the satirical. At one point Crimmins tells a live audience about performing to victims of the Contras in a Nicaraguan hospital, mimicking his reception by amputees by hitting one hand against his chest, saying “I know the sound of one-hand clapping.” Crimmins “goes there” in every sense of it, and even just watching the performances on a screen had our audience’s jaws flopping open like pretentious bass. That’s basically the first half of the movie, and if “Call Me Lucky” was simply about Barry Crimmins: Boston legend and unfairly-forgotten truth-teller, it’d still be a good movie. The reason it’s a great one is that the second half goes even further. People like Crimmins, crusaders who seem pissed off about the state of the world, they often get asked “what are you so angry about?” The stock answer we”re all used to hearing is “if you’re not angry, you aren’t paying attention!” Which might be true, but it’s still a deflection. “Call Me Lucky” doesn’t deflect. Its response is more like, “you want to know why Barry Crimmins is so angry? Oh, we’ll tell you, but you may be sorry you asked.” Read more.

Dennis Harvey, Variety

Vintage performance clips reveal the man himself to have been hilarious but challenging by contemporary standards: Where sensations of the day like Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay celebrated the frequently misogynist, homophobic rude ‘n’ crude, Crimmins’ higher-minded “political and social satire” was fueled by an acute awareness of injustice. During the Reagan era, his frequently rancorous humor embodied the rage of a ’60s progressive scorned. He didn’t just condemn government policies; he actually performed in Nicaragua and with leftie troubadour Billy Bragg. While we glimpse some high-profile tube appearances, the increasingly testy nature of his stage rants was on a collision course with comedy-audience comfort even before 1992. Read more.

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club

Goldthwait’s handling of one specific aspect backfires, unfortunately. In theory, it shouldn’t be a spoiler to mention that Crimmins was a victim of childhood sexual abuse; it’s something he’s discussed publicly at length, and it fuels his deep-seated anger about abuses of power, especially where kids are involved. But “Call Me Lucky” treats this information like a big plot twist, withholding it until roughly the film’s midpoint. Goldthwait talks to David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, and other comedy greats, all of whom gush about Crimmins’ genius (to the point where it gets a little overbearing, frankly). But several of them also make sober allusions to some tragedy in Crimmins’ past, and their remarks have clearly been edited so as to preserve the surprise. Using this sad history as a suspense tactic and sudden bombshell feels unseemly, and not in the productive way that characterizes Goldthwait’s previous exercises in deliberately poor taste. Absurdist satire is one thing; a real person and his real pain deserve a less crass, commercial approach. Read more.

Alan Zilberman, The Washington Post

Concluding with a final thought from seemingly every comedian Crimmins has ever known, “Call Me Lucky” ultimately proves itself to be more interested in warmhearted lip service than in cinematic power. As Goldthwait repeatedly returns to footage of a recent performance by Crimmins, in which he’s introduced as a great entertainer, all we see are the aimless rants of a self-righteous blowhard. The novelty of the truth-telling is gone, but Goldthwait is too close to Crimmins to realize it. Read more.

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