Friday, May 8, 2020

Death done with humor, intelligence and sadness in Amy Jo Johnson/Joanne Sarazen's Canadian indie, TAMMY'S ALWAYS DYING

TrustMovies has long felt that films from Canada often get short shrifted by critics, not to mention audiences, here in the USA. Canadian movies tend to come at their subject more obliquely, and they don't hammer home their points in the usual "unmissable" fashion. They can also tackle darker subjects more fearlessly, if often more quietly. And so I rather sense that a new film from up north -- TAMMY'S ALWAYS DYING, written by Joanne Sarazen and directed by Amy Jo Johnson -- will end up as yet another example of this rather long-standing trend.

Ms Johnson and Ms Sarazen (shown, respectively, at right and left in the photo, right, at last year's Toronto International Film Festival) have collaborated quite well in terms of finding the correct tone for this oddball family film about an alcoholic, semi-suicidal mother and her sadly under-appreciated and consequently closed-off daughter and the precarious, though still precious bond that connects them.

The filmmakers find plenty of low-key humor in their characters' situation, but as the movie unfolds, the humor recedes and sadness takes over, as we learn more about this duo's history.

The leading performances -- from Felicity Huffman (above) as mom and Anatasia Phillips (below) as daughter -- are as fine as you could ask for: moment to moment real, with many of those moments filled with the kind of specificity of both writing and performance that helps make movies occasionally memorable. While I have long loved the versatile work of Ms Huffman (from TransAmerica to Trust Me and Rudderless), Ms Phillips is new to me, but her performance here is as rich and encompassing as you could want.

The supporting cast is strong, as well, with Clark Johnson (below, right) playing the kindly best friend of both mother and daughter, and Kristian Bruun especially good as a local bartender who's there for the daughter, too. Kindness, as I have often discovered in Canadian movies, is an odd constant, running maybe below the surface and sometimes unreciprocated. But simply there, maybe part of the national character, along with, yes, a lot of negative stuff, too. But you find kindness cropping up in things Canadian, again and again.

Capturing the lower-middle-class on film truthfully, without judgment or special pleading, is never easy, but this film manages it surprisingly well. The movie dawdles along the way, and some may find this annoying. Yet even the dawdling is full of humor and depth -- maybe the most marvelous moment comes as mom and child recall an earlier dance performance, but from very different angles --  leading to a conclusion that nears the transcendent, as well as the transgressive. Of course: It's Canadian. (This funny/sad moment is then, sort-of, given a reprise during the one-of-a-kind end credits.)

From Quiver Distribution and running 87 minutes, Tammy's Always Dying was to have opened theatrcially but, as with every just about every other movie these days, is making its debut digitally and via VOD instead. Check your favorite or usual source, and go to it!

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