There is a certain magic about films that, when done correctly, make them feel like incredibly detailed storybooks. The details are vivid and you are able to feel a wide depth of emotion for these moving images. Not all aspects of film fit into books, and the inverse is also true. Sometimes, to tell a story properly and effectively, you must borrow elements from one (in this case it’s books) and apply it to another (a film). Call Me Lucky borrows this structure in a way that starts off misleadingly conservative but ends in an unpredictable plot twist.
Like a book, the first half of the film feels like a prologue. Our hero is introduced. His life and upbringing are quickly rehashed to make way for his true origin story. We are then made to marvel at his feats with the same gusto that the narrator (Bobcat Goldthwait) feels. There are also witness accounts (by friends and colleagues) meant to add to the hero’s complexity. Only when the narrator is ready to hand over the reins to the leading man does the story truly begin. Call Me Lucky begins with so much nostalgia and reminiscing, you would think that the subject of the film was dead and this biography was made posthumously to remember him. It’s not until we reach halfway through the film and are introduced to Barry Crimmins that we know he will physically be part of this story, and actually still alive, for those of you who weren’t familiar with him prior to the film.
For the first part of the film, we are introduced to a comedian that is not widely known outside of the comedic world. Barry Crimmins has been in the background of more comedians than you may even realize. He is an offhand comedian known for his often explosive nature and political savvy. Through close friends like Bobcat Goldthwait (writer/director) and Tom Kenny, we see firsthand how much of a trailblazer Crimmins was, leading the way for political satirists everywhere. Popular comedians like Patton Oswalt, Margaret Cho, and David Cross each offer their commentary on just how influential Crimmins was and how much of an inspiration he was to many. All agree that his sometimes unsettled demeanor, in combination with his drinking problem, made for one volatile molotov cocktail waiting to scorch himself and everyone around him.
Up to this point, the documentary plays as a fairly safe one, giving the audience a starter course on Barry Crimmins. This seems a fairly tame approach to such a turbulent person. Call us lucky, because the slow-burning build up was meant to be misdirection to make the turn the film takes that much more dynamic. It was a resounding success. The second half of the film moves from Crimmins the comedian to Crimmins the political activist and undercover agent. We revisit Crimmins’ childhood to a moment that would irrevocably change his life, fueling the well of rage that made him iconic. His introduction into his own story completes the picture and shows us just how incomplete people’s perceptions of him really are.
The most interesting thing Call Me Lucky does is build up a character we may have been unfamiliar with at the start of the film, only to break him down again to give him even more complexity. Goldthwait, who continues to see Crimmins as an inspiration and a hero, develops the character so well that all the aggrandizing done in the first half of the film comes off as well-deserved. Goldthwait’s honest treatment of Crimmins, along with the refusal to sugar-coat any of the events, gave the film the power to create a lasting impression on the audience. If you started this film not knowing who Barry Crimmins was at the start, it is very doubtful now that you’ll ever forget.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)