Review by Sean Boelman
It’s a wonder that Tammy’s Always Dying is getting to see the light of day right now because of the controversy in which its star was involved, though it doesn’t seem like there ever would have been an opportune time to release it. Starting out as an interesting examination of mental health, but turning into a disappointingly messy cancer drama, the film is all over the place, and not in a good way.
The movie follows a woman who, fed up with her selfish mother, decides to take advantage of her sob story for personal gain, only for their lives to be shaken up by an unexpected cancer diagnosis. While this seems like a decent set-up for a black comedy, that comedy is almost non-existent, writer Joanne Sarazen having taken her premise with too much of a straight face for the film to be remotely entertaining.
Perhaps the most problematic thing about the movie is its treatment of suicide. The opening moments are very intriguing, as they show the potential of offering a balanced and nuanced discussion on the topic, only for the film to become bitter and mean-spirited. Because of this, it’s hard to gain anything of worth from the story because it simply feels aggressive.
Undeniably the most compelling part of the movie is the mother-daughter relationship between the characters, but Sarazen doesn’t explore that to its full depth. For much of the film, the characters are separated talking about each other. It’s almost like psychoanalyzing the two halves of the relationship without seeing it in action for a sufficient period of time, which is frustrating.
The film’s solo character arcs are also very underwhelming. The storyline involving the protagonist trying to capitalize on her story is pretty much dead on arrival. It’s obvious that this is meant to be her method of coping and coming to understand her emotions in a complex situation, but other than that, it adds very little to the movie. A father-figure character also feels sorely underused.
Felicity Huffman gives a solid performance in her supporting role, although it often feels like the film’s focus is turned away from her. She is given a few scenes in which she is able to shine, but this is otherwise Anastasia Phillips’s show. Phillips is good enough, but more often than not, she struggles to bring life into uninspired material.
Director Amy Jo Johnson tries her best to give a stylish edge to the visuals, and while she is obviously very talented, she can’t save the film from feeling dull. A lot of the most interesting artistic choices on display are tied to narrative elements that aren’t fleshed out, and as a result, their impact is lessened.
Tammy’s Always Dying sounds very interesting on paper, but in execution, it’s too messy and uneven to be particularly interesting. A few strong moments aside, this is mostly a slog that was in desperate need of a rewrite (or two).
Tammy’s Always Dying hits VOD on May 1.