Tammy's Always Dying

 

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Felicity Huffman ignites a darkly comedic tale of Tammy & hooch.

   
Tammy's Always Dying

Message in a bottle: Felicity Huffman and Anastasia Phillips

  

The disease of alcoholism has long been a focal point throughout film history dating back to the days before Prohibition, with temperance movement morality tales warning against the ‘curse of the drink’. Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945) marked the first post-war film to tackle the subject frankly and directly. From Smash-Up (1947) to Smashed (2012), there is a proven fascination with self-destructive behaviour and the tragic alcoholic. Tammy’s Always Dying is a true character study of three-dimensional people caught in their circumstances and addictions, from the actor-turned-director Amy Jo Johnson, who flourishes in her sophomore feature about toxic relationships and redemption.

 

Fantastic legs, snagged hosiery and leopard pumps accompany a pop song beat as Tammy MacDonald (Felicity Huffman) casually climbs onto a bridge ledge in her monthly to-be-or-not-to-be ritual. Safety nets and her diligent daughter, Catherine (Anastasia Phillips), prevent the fall. Between a frequently suicidal mother and the barflys she serves, Cathy is inundated with alcoholics. She escapes into the promises of reality television, late night trysts with a married man (Aaron Ashmore), and weekend trips to a posh hotel bar, where she and surrogate father figure Dougie (Clark Johnson) act out the lives of the rich and famous. When Tammy receives some bad news, Catherine struggles living a life of continued care for a non-functioning alcoholic. 

 

Rich performances elevate this dark comedy and bring significant nuance to the film. Huffman accurately captures the rash, uninhibited, often child-like behaviour of a troubled woman under the influence. Catherine’s innate yearning to be seen by her mother is beautifully realized in Anastasia Phillips. Each seeks different forms of relief to cope with unfulfilled needs and dreams. Welcomed humour balances out the tone of the otherwise melancholy film. From the opening shots, there is a clear sense of environment that grounds the story. First-time feature writer Joanne Sarazen isn’t afraid to let her characters look unsympathetic or selfish. The script opens discussion on the burden of caring for a parent, the ways in which people seek relief, and the baited pretence of reality TV. Although the story meanders at times, it arrives full circle in the end, being a clear labour of love and a cathartic ode to fraught mother-daughter relationships.

 

CHAD KENNERK

 

Cast: Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson, Lauren Holly, Aaron Ashmore, Kristian Bruun, Jessica Greco, Oluniké Adeliyi, Ali Hassan.

 

Dir Amy Jo Johnson, Pro Jessica Adams and Harry Cherniak, Screenplay Joanne Sarazen, Ph Daniel Grant, Pro Des Marian Wihak, Ed Bryan Atkinson, Music Casey Manierka-Quaile, Costumes Crystal Silden.

 

JA Productions/Plainspeak Pictures/Prospero Pictures-Aqute Media.

85 mins. Canada. 2019. US Rel (VOD): 1 May 2020. Cert. R.