I admit that when I first saw Bobcat Goldthwait on screen sometime in the 1980s, he of the Grover voice making me laugh in the second Police Academy movie, it never occurred to me that he'd be helming one of the most powerful and moving documentaries of the year.
In the best, most charitable way, Call Me Lucky is a passion project for Goldthwait. The director traces the career of the film's subject, his mentor Barry Crimmins, as we learn of the rise of the Boston comedy scene and the wealth of talent that emerged from there.
Crimmins was an astute chronicler of the time, a political comedian who raged with the best of them but did so with a specificity and eloquence that's rare. A liberal voice shouting in the wind that gusted during Ronald Reagan's reign of America, Crimmins was both caustic and cutting, while at the same time nurturing local talents and facilitating their rise to the big time.
The film take a major narrative shift midway through, and part of the film's effectiveness is the affect of the tonal switch. Without giving too much away, it's fair to say that Goldthwait and his editors handle the situation with a great deal of sophistication and sensitivity, while still allowing Crimmins and his point of view to be at the fore.
Using vintage footage along with contemporary performance material, we get real insight into the last few decades of stand-up comedy, as well as Crimmins' current passions.
If there's a (very) minor fault with the film, it's that Goldthwait situates himself within the film without the same introduction he gives to his colleagues. It's a minor thing, as if only fans of his would seek out this remarkable doc and thus know who he is from his body of work. Yes, ideally everyone should know Goldthwait, but the fact is that this film is in many ways his most accomplished and mature, and will hopefully find audiences outside even the (wide) swath of fans already familiar and disposed to take a shot at a Goldthwait flick. It needed little more than a chiron or a brief intro, just as was done for the likes of Steven Wright or Patton Oswalt, and all would have been made a bit more right.
This is the most minor of quibbles, however, as the film really is hilarious, moving, and deeply affecting. There's a series of intertwined stories at the heart of Call Me Lucky and they all manage to be kept comprehensible despite the complexity of the tales.
This is a love letter by Goldthwait to his friend Crimmins, but it's a letter written with wit and sardonicism, a wonderfully crafted ode that avoids ever coming across as aggrandizing or sycophantic. We're lucky that Call Me Lucky was helmed by Goldthwait, lucky that a filmmaker with this much clarity of vision and ability to cut through the shit was able to tell it like it is. Kudos to Crimmins, kudos to Goldthwait, kudos to this film.
Review originally published during the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015. The film will open in select U.S. theaters on Friday, August 7. Visit the official site for more information.