There are many excerpts of Barry Crimmins' stand-up work in Call Me Lucky, and few of them struck me as particularly funny. However, all of them certainly grab your attention. His act concentrates heavily on the social and political concerns that are weighing on his mind, and he addresses these subjects with such venom that you can almost feel the discomfort in the room. He has a hostile, dangerous presence, and that feeling is amplified by his willingness to verbally assault any audience member who dares to challenge him. He doesn't particularly seem to care about whether his audience laughs, either. “I will no longer provide distraction for the American people,” he once said, “because the world is on fire and one of the primary fuels is the ignorance of the American people.”
In the 1990s, Crimmins zeroed in a specific subject. He had observed the way that the increasing availability of the internet had led to a surge in child pornography, and vowed to do everything within his power to help build a case against legion of child abusers popping up all over the web. In public, he led a large-scale crusade against child pornography (even testifying before Congress at one point), while in private he spent countless hours of his free time collecting evidence that might be used to indict sex offenders. The subject was one that meant a great deal to Crimmins on a personal level: he had been raped as a young child, and was determined to do something to help other kids avoid the same fate.
The biggest problem with Call Me Lucky (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, another prominent stand-up figure of the '80s and '90s) is that it attempts to turn this tragedy from Crimmins' past into a meant-to-be-shocking plot twist. It would be one thing if the film were revealing new information, but Crimmins spent years addressing his childhood trauma in public. It's understandable that Goldthwait might not want to lead with this stuff, but the suspenseful build-up to the reveal strikes me as unnecessary at best and tasteless at worst.
The other key problem is that Goldthwait seems a little too adoring of his subject to really offer a proper critical examination of Crimmins' stand-up work (a subject that occupies most of the film's first hour). We're treated to one talking-head interview after another with prominent comedians (Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Marc Maron, etc.) who speak at length about how brilliant and influential Crimmins has been, but there's a lack of curiosity that is perhaps directly tied to the film's desire to make sure everyone knows how great Crimmins is.
Still, the film's central figure is fascinating enough to ensure that the documentary is rarely a dull watch. In the film's early scenes, you suspect that Crimmins might just be one of those guys who uses shock value to help himself stand out from the crowd, but eventually you recognize that his unyielding rage comes from a very real and painful place. When he says that his two goals in life are to overthrow the American government and shut down the Catholic church, he's not just indulging in a little provocative button-pushing. He's furious at the way the world's most powerful institutions have turned a blind eye to people who are suffering, and whatever you think of his methods or his proposed solutions, he's working hard to try to make things better. We could use more people like him.
Call Me Lucky
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Year: 2015