“I remember not really getting the depth of what Barry had been through.”
One of the greatest strengths of documentary filmmaking, and perhaps the most important, is the medium’s intuitive ability to introduce new information to the masses. In this case we meet, or remember, the innocuously forthright comedian Barry Crimmins. You’re probably asking, “…who?” Do yourself a favor and search his name. A stand-up, public defendant, recluse, talent agent, and the hardest drinking man who’s not an alcoholic. That’s who he is. Those labels are perfunctory though, because once we get to know this man, or at least the perception of him being captured, we come to understand about as truthful and sincere and sympathetic a person as you’re likely to encounter. Call Me Lucky is an uncensored and unanticipated wrecking ball, allowing Barry to say his little piece of half-hearted peace before tearing you down with honest observations, making you contemplate how to rebuild from the heart up to the head.
Maybe the film doesn’t answer its own questions, and neither does Barry, because that’s not what interests him. Crimmins was a well read man before being well read became easy and unlimited through constantly accessible and attainable information, the rare breed capable of politicizing personal and social agendas with full-proof evidence. Sometimes you meet a person and instantly know that their brain functions at a higher level and on a different plane of existence. Again, that’s Barry. In one of the doc’s most satisfying sequences, numerous comedians try to pin down their first impression of the larger than life man to fictional or real characters – proving he blurred that thick line – with names ranging from Noam Chomsky to the burly animated Bluto. This is a quick film, unlike most of the elongated and stunted movies so far this year, showcasing an amount of personal and historical detail with the kind of brevity and exactness you just don’t see anymore. Like golden water from an aged oak barrel, Call Me Lucky goes down strong with a strikingly smooth last note, gifting us with the angel’s share.
Comedy and the stars who perform it often find their material in extremely dark and tortured places. Call Me Lucky drinks from the same emotional well as this year’s Misery Loves Comedy, but ultimately resonates more deeply because it is so damn personal. Barry commands his stage front and center. There’s a level of comfort here with director Bobcat Goldthwait using his forged friendship and long past with Barry to gain unprecedented access to a hermit living in the outskirts, chopping wood, letting time pass. From the final product alone, you would not guess how very little Goldthwait has directed over the course of his career. Call Me Lucky holds your gaze steady, and whether that be from the filmmaking or the enormity of its subject doesn’t matter. Barry’s immense power and presence is matched by the documentary.
You’ll see the big reveal miles away, but Goldthwait and his editor Jeff Striker have made the film with such finesse, teasing the impact of the moment before dropping the bomb that you still stay invested and in turn broken. The magic of Barry Crimmins is not one of deception or trickery; he doesn’t believe in lies. His wizardry spellbinds you through sheer and utter honesty, never afraid to deface government or religion, capable of saying, “fuck you” in ways you’ve never heard before. He seems to have, from a secular point of view, the soul of a sinner doing the acts of a saint. Allowing us to laugh at his pain is as much his medicine as it is ours. Barry Crimmins drives the ambulance of self-deprecation, letting passersby gawk and giggle, knowing that his comedy comes from an unspeakably wicked place, hoping to lift his mockers – and his spirit – up just a little bit. Call Me Lucky’s devotion to its subject is as much a touch of grace as it is a gratifying ode to the rumbling tenderness of its hero.
“You have to go through things; not around them.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5