Without any exaggeration, I would call Bobcat Goldthwait one of the most consistently interesting and original filmmakers working today. When he first started turning out films like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World's Greatest Dad,” there was a quick moment where it seemed surprising to me that the guy from the “Police Academy” films could make those movies. That passed, though, and now the surprising part is that someone as thoughtful and articulate and big-hearted could have ever vanished into the character from those movies. I can't connect the guy I've been speaking with on and off for the last five or six years to the guy I saw perform live several times in the '80s, and I find him fascinating as a result.
I wasn't nervous about having Bobcat in to the HitFix studios on Tuesday, but I was very nervous about meeting Barry Crimmins, the subject of “Call Me Lucky,” the remarkable new documentary by Goldthwait which begins its theatrical release today in select markets. And why not? Crimmins emerges over the course of the film as a ferociously smart man with a proud and undimmed spirit, this incredibly strong presence who basically helped create the modern stand-up comedy market while still wrestling with some profoundly difficult personal issues.
When I saw the film at Sundance this year, I was smitten. It's an incredibly difficult movie, and it hurts in places. Just last week, I finally caught up with “Tig,” the documentary that charts the year after Tig Notaro's now-legendary set that began with her announcing, “I have cancer.” It's powerful stuff, no doubt about it, and Notaro is someone I have utmost respect for, both as a writer and as a performer. She was one of those comics whose work existed as a series of beautiful polished gems of jokes that existed simply to make you laugh. She was not the subject of her stand-up in any serious autobiographical fashion until that night. Figuring out who she is as a comic now, after that event, is the real meat of that film, and I love all of the footage of her working on new material. She bombs hard, and they include it, specifically so you can see the way she thinks her way towards the final version of a joke. There are moments in “Tig,” though, that strike me as false, as intrusive, like the camera crew really wants more than Tig is willing to give, and they don't really seem to care that they're dealing with someone's pain in a moment where they haven't had any time to process it yet.
That is not the case with Barry Crimmins. He trusts Bobcat, and he invited him into his life in an absolutely open way in order to make “Call Me Lucky,” and it is very clear from the film that Goldthwait genuinely loves Crimmins. This is an act of respect, the way Goldthwait tells this story and the way he makes the case for the real importance of who Barry is and what he's done. When you talk to Barry, it is clear that he is a gentle and peaceful man who is righteously mad as hell about all sorts of things that remain unresolved.
As Goldthwait said, “Call Me Lucky” will be available on pretty much all digital platforms soon, but if you're in a market where it's playing, then please… it is easily the best thing opening in a theater this weekend, and it is genuinely important. Bobcat Goldthwait helped his old friend and mentor finally capture his voice in such a beautiful way, and the result is a clear-eyed, huge-hearted master class in how to make a film that really allows us to step into someone else's skin without crossing the line into exploitation.
“Call Me Lucky” is in limited release today.