×

Sundance Film Review: ‘Call Me Lucky’

Bobcat Goldthwait's documentary about an underappreciated comedic mentor packs an unexpected wallop.

With:
Barry Crimmins, Jack Gallagher, Martin Olson, Steve Sweeney, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Steven Wright, Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, Tom Kenny, Ginny Crimmins, Bobcat Goldthwait, Dana Gould, Cindy Sheehan, Jonathan Katz, Billy Bragg.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3899932/

A tribute to an underappreciated comedic talent that takes a startling midpoint shift toward much graver material, “Call Me Lucky” is a terrifically engaging surprise. Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary feature manages to avoid both excessive cronyism and soapboxing as it traverses from a portrait of his professional mentor, influential standup Barry Crimmins, to something that could scarcely be less of a laughing matter. Acclaim is likely to push the pic from the festival circuit into some theatrical play, with cable and other home-format sales a given.

“Call Me Lucky” immediately establishes its subject as a simultaneously nurturing, courageous, intimidating and angry figure who walked away from a degree of national success more than two decades ago. The reasons for that prove very complex. But first, the film focuses on Crimmins’ earlier years as a furiously committed purveyor of comedy — both his own and that of younger hometown acquaintances Goldthwait and Tom Kenny (two among many veteran buzzers interviewed here). He began showcasing them locally as high schoolers, then carried them along to the bigger stomping grounds of Boston. There, Crimmins opened and operated comedy clubs that broke numerous major talents, playing a leading role in the standup boom of the 1980s.

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.

Popular on Variety

That was the year that Crimmins performed a monologue revealing he’d once been a victim of horrific, ongoing abuse. After that disclosure, he seemed irresistibly drawn from entertainment toward full-time advocacy, focusing particularly on exposing the sleazier avenues permitted to flourish by scant regulation/oversight on that then-new public forum, the Internet. (There is particularly vivid footage of him shaming an AOL official at a Senate hearing on child pornography.) Without wanting to spoil what the pic deftly plays out as a series of shocking narrative twists, suffice it to say that “Call Me Lucky” winds up being among the most devastating of numerous 2015 Sundance titles touching on underage sexual exploitation.

Such efforts have hardly gone unacknowledged — among other honors, Crimmins was given a humanitarian award alongside no less than Maya Angelou — yet the subject remains a somewhat tortured figure who now lives in relative seclusion. Goldthwait’s heartfelt film gives him further, more intimate due. The only minor flaw here is a final stretch that features many friends, both famous and everyday, paying personal tribute — all pointed and poignant, but their testimonies just go on too long.

The astute, lively assembly is first-rate down the line, gaining aesthetic diversity from some clever animated bits, and an expansive bigscreen feel from Bradley Stonesifer’s extra-wide-format lensing. Another significant plus is an inventive, playful score by Charlyne Yi, herself better known as a comedian/actress (“Knocked Up,” “Paper Heart,” “House”).

Sundance Film Review: 'Call Me Lucky'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 28, 2015. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) Produced by Clinton Trucks, Charlie Fonville. Executive producers, Bobcat Goldthwait, Greg Newman. Co-producers, Bradley Stonesifer, Barry Crimmins.

Crew: A Type 55 Films production. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Bradley Stonesifer; editor, Jeff Striker; music, Charlyne Yi; animation, Greg Franklin, Six Point Harness; sound, Frank Montes, Jordan Lott, Miles Anderson, Olivier Virmont, Mike Silvestri; supervising sound editors, Jesse Pomeroy, Paul Stanley; re-recording mixer, Sean Heissinger; assistant directors, Aimee Pierson, Tim Hyten.

With: Barry Crimmins, Jack Gallagher, Martin Olson, Steve Sweeney, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Steven Wright, Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, Tom Kenny, Ginny Crimmins, Bobcat Goldthwait, Dana Gould, Cindy Sheehan, Jonathan Katz, Billy Bragg.

More Film

  • Oliver-Berben-and-Uli-Edel

    Constantin TV, ZDF, Global Screen, Team on 'The Palace' (EXCLUSIVE)

    BERLIN — Constantin Film, the No. 1 German independent behind the “Resident Evil” franchise, is teaming with German public broadcaster ZDF to produce “The Palace,” (“Friedrichstadt-Palast”) a period drama set at the celebrated Berlin music hall. Global Screen will handle international distribution. “Last Exit to Brooklyn’s” Uli Edel will re-team with Constantin Television, directing the [...]

  • Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori

    Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori Documentary 'Frankie'

    Embankment has launched worldwide sales at the European Film Market on feature documentary “Frankie,” the story of champion jockey Frankie Dettori, winner of more than 3,000 races. The film shadows Dettori for one season as, at 49, he looks to win a record third Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on Enable, his most beloved horse. [...]

  • Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia

    Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia Jones Starrer 'Coda' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pathé has closed major pre-sales on Sian Heder’s anticipated film “Coda,” starring Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez and Marlee Matlin, after unveiling an exclusive promo reel of the film at EFM. An English-language remake of the French smash hit “La Famille Belier,” “Coda” is being produced by Philippe Rousselet and Fabrice Gianfermi at Vendôme Group, alongside [...]

  • Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Caroline

    Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Oscar-Winner Caroline Link's 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit'

    Beta Cinema has sold the German box-office hit “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” by Oscar-winner Caroline Link to the U.S. Greenwich Entertainment picked up the rights to the feature, which has attracted almost one million admissions since its Christmas release in Germany alone. German media lauded the film, calling it “a real godsend for the [...]

  • 'H Is for Happiness' Review

    'H Is for Happiness': Film Review

    More often than not, “A” festival competitions privilege the arty over the entertaining, so hats off to the Berlinale Generation section, where the two qualities frequently coexist. A case in point: the delightful coming-of-age dramedy “H Is for Happiness,” which provides feel-good entertainment for the entire family without pandering — and definitely without sacrificing style [...]

  • 'Jinpa' Review

    ‘Jinpa’: Film Review

    After roaming for more than a year on the international festival circuit, “Jinpa” — the latest effort from Tibetan director Pema Tseden (“Old Dog,” “Tharlo”) — has finally launched a limited run in U.S. art houses, where it might find an appreciative if occasionally perplexed audience for its idiosyncratic mix of deadpan wit and understated [...]

  • Clarisse-Goulart

    Projeto Paradiso Fights for Brazilian Film Industry

    BERLIN — Having slowed incentives to a near halt this year, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s government looks set to decimate film funding in 2020. Brazil’s industry is bracing – and fighting back. On Sunday, at Berlin, Projeto Paradiso, a philanthropic organization, announced a Sao Paulo Forum, New Business Models for a New Audiovisual Era, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content