DVD Review: Call Me Lucky

LuckyDVDSTUDIO: MPI | DIRECTOR: Bobcat Goldthwait
RELEASE DATE: 10/13/15 | PRICE: DVD $24.98, Blu-ray $29.98
BONUSES: audio commentary by Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins
SPECS: NR | 105 min. | Documentary | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video | Overall

 

Barry Crimmins is a “comedian’s comedian.” That troublesome label – don’t audiences find him funny? – is never uttered in this moving, heartfelt documentary but is felt throughout, as Crimmins’ friend and protege Bobcat Goldthwait explores the demons that drive the cult stand-up comedian.

Goldthwait has already made several terrific dark comedy features (Father of the Year, God Bless America), but Call Me Lucky is his first documentary and it clearly was a labor of love. He carefully rearranges the chronology of Crimmins’ life here to spotlight aspects of his public image before he delves into the childhood events that Crimmins kept hidden a good deal of his life.

So we first encounter Crimmins as a mentor and trendsetter. As a booker at two important Boston comedy clubs (one run inside a Chinese restaurant) Crimmins fostered the careers of a number of comics who appear here as talking heads, including Steven Wright, Kevin Meaney, Tom Kenny and Goldthwait himself (who rather subtly inserts himself into the film at various points while resisting the urge to serve as a narrator).

Crimmins’ status as an outspoken Left-wing comedian is discussed by a number of his fans. Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), David Cross (TV’s Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret), Marc Maron and Margaret Cho (I Am Comic) discuss what it was like to see Crimmins in his heyday as a no-b.s. stand-up who openly criticized the Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations in front of audiences looking for (as one of his friends puts it) “dick jokes.”

The turnabout in the film occurs at the 45-minute mark, when we learn that Crimmins talked onstage one night about being sexually abused several times as a child by a babysitter’s stepfather. From this point on the film becomes a sad but heroic tale of his efforts to not only deal with his memories and urge other survivors to speak out, but also his tireless work in the Nineties to have those who distributed child pornography on the Internet (then a new concept to most Americans) caught and arrested.

Comedian Barry Crimmins in Call Me Lucky

Comedian Barry Crimmins in Call Me Lucky

At this point the comments from the talking heads become particularly poignant, especially a tearful bit from Crimmins’ sister, who witnessed his being abused in one instance and tried to stop it. (Goldthwait tells her before asking her to talk about the incident that Barry considers her his “hero” to this day.) The pieces of the puzzle begin to drop into place, as his fellow comics discuss the ways in which his childhood experiences seemingly fuel his sense of outrage against injustice and his bursts of anger against political targets (and the occasional unwitting heckler).

Many documentarians maintain a distance from their subject, but here one always has the sense that the film was made by someone who feels for Crimmins. Goldthwait probes the pain lurking beneath the anger and is never anything less than compassionate in his profile of his friend. When we reach the key cathartic moment in the film – when Crimmins visits the basement in which he was raped – one gets the distinct impression that Goldthwait made the film not only to honor his friend but to serve as a form of therapy for him.

Thus one is heartened by not only the film’s hopeful conclusion but also the lighthearted audio commentary, in which Crimmins continually punctures the solemn tone of Goldthwait’s tribute to him (repleted with a Harpo horn he honks at various moments in the picture – a far cry from his eloquent stand-up persona). There are several amusing anecdotes the duo trade in the commentary, but the most interesting note is struck early on when Goldthwait talks about the first person who helped him fund the film, his friend Robin Williams (The Fisher King). (The film bears the dedication “For Robin.”)

Call Me Lucky deals with a grim, tragic topic but does so intelligently and with welcome doses of humor – although there are unfortunately no outtakes in the DVD package, a few short interview segments are featured under the closing credits that play against any possible “canonization” of the quietly heroic but all-too-human Crimmins, as his close friends elaborate a few of the ways in which he can be a real pain in the ass.

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”