The Tom Green Cancer Special was a genuinely startling piece of surreality TV, a gallows parody of disease-of-the-week programs that just happened to be a disease-of-the-week program. It also exemplified Green’s visceral brand of life-as-theater, in which his own parents were key supporting players—ambushed time and again as hostages in eviscerating pranks that doubled as performative family therapy (peaking when he erected a statue of Mum and Dad boinking doggy-style on their front lawn).
Which is all to say that Tom Green is more than just a humper of dead moose, though that’s hard to discern from his directing debut, Freddy Got Fingered. Green nominally plays Gord, a 28-year-old aspiring animator whose residence in his parents’ home is punctuated by aborted trips to Hollywood and increasingly savage altercations with his monstrous yet loving father (Rip Torn). In other words, Green plays himself, or rather his television incarnation, replete with combustible oedipal element. Accordingly, Freddy is a compendium of tenuously linked scatological paroxysms, bestial and otherwise. Gord manually stimulates horses and elephants; he fashions a bloody poncho out of a deceased buck. When his buddy suffers a grisly compound fracture, Gord soothingly licks the wound; when a woman gives birth, he chews off the umbilical cord.
We can be thankful that the lucky newborn is a doll, though that underscores a larger problem. In blowing up his TV show to feature size, Green replaces natural ingredients with the equivalent of rubber-vomit props, innocent bystanders with winking actors. The deranged momentum of guerrilla chaos that propelled the series is gone. Of the new recruits, Torn gives as good as he gets (Pop drops drawers for a self-abasing jiggle-and-slap), and so does Marisa Coughlan as Gord’s paraplegic sweetheart, whose passions include rocket science, fellatio, and the erotic deployment of bamboo sticks. Though poorly shot, a few of the set pieces are beautiful disasters (the coup is an extended fancy-restaurant conflagration), the editing sometimes impressively dense: In the space of a few minutes, Gord can flay a deer, get hit by a truck, observe a stud farm, run over a small boy with his car, and eat a sandwich. A sick fan might wonder why the movie isn’t more criminally minded (for instance, why doesn’t Green go all the way with the incest subplot that provides his title?). As it stands, Freddy Got Fingered is a frat-boy remake of Pink Flamingos, which isn’t all bad—Tom Green gunning to replace the dearly departed Divine as Most Disgusting Person Alive.
A hard-to-please patriarch also looms large over The Golden Bowl, the latest Merchant Ivory gloss on Belle Epoque repression. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s script skims Henry James’s exquisitely exhaustive mapping of a love quadrangle: Maggie (Kate Beckinsale) feels she has ruptured the nearly symbiotic bond she shares with her billionaire father, Adam (Nick Nolte), by wedding an underfunded Italian prince, Amerigo (Jeremy Northam); she nudges Dad into his own marriage with a penniless beauty, Charlotte (Uma Thurman), unaware that Charlotte has past and future romantic entanglements with Amerigo.
Though it often wallows in louche baroque textures, The Golden Bowl is perhaps the most visually accomplished of the Ivory soaps: The interiors are dusky and cryptlike, and cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts lets the posh backdrops blur out into faintly menacing indeterminacy. A similar purposeful ambiguity doesn’t touch the characters, who’ve been rewritten in binary code: Amerigo and Charlotte become mere lusty opportunists, father and daughter become avenging saints. Nolte and Beckinsale wear their ennoblement with easy grace, but the others, rather tellingly, don’t fare as well—Thurman is all coquettish hyperventilation and flailing arms, while Northam tries on Gary Oldman’s accent from Dracula. The novel is a mournful but unsentimental accretion of equally weighed perspective shifts; the film is less interested in the helpless selfishness of love than in moral assignations.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 24, 2001