Like the late Bill Hicks, comedian Barry Crimmins is a truth-teller who made a name for himself by using his platform not for laughs exactly, but to rail against the status quo. Ironically, “Call Me Lucky,” a worshipful new documentary profile of Crimmins by comic-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, has a little too much reverence for its irreverent subject.
Using interviews from friends and fellow comics, the film begins by focusing on Crimmins’s early career as a performer and club owner, creating a home for comedians in Boston in the 1980s. The second half shifts gears, showing how Crimmins — a victim of sexual abuse as a child — became a tireless advocate for exploited children, eventually testifying before a Senate committee about the proliferation of child pornography during the early days of America Online. To the surprise of comedians who knew him as loudmouth drunk, Crimmins received major awards for his efforts.
The story is a remarkable one, and could have been the subject of a searing film if Goldthwait hadn’t padded out the archival footage and interviews with tedious repetition. With more platitudes than depth, the overwrought direction continues to hammer us with evidence of Crimmins’s courage long after we have gotten the point. Goldthwait even has Crimmins return to the basement where he was raped as a child, seemingly unaware that revisiting the traumatic moment on film is in poor taste.
Concluding with a final thought from seemingly every comedian Crimmins has ever known, “Call Me Lucky” ultimately proves itself to be more interested in warmhearted lip service than in cinematic power. As Goldthwait repeatedly returns to footage of a recent performance by Crimmins, in which he’s introduced as a great entertainer, all we see are the aimless rants of a self-righteous blowhard. The novelty of the truth-telling is gone, but Goldthwait is too close to Crimmins to realize it.
Zilberman is a freelance writer.
Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains coarse language, including graphic descriptions of child abuse, and crude animation.