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“Tammy’s Always Dying” Needs More Life

Felicity Huffman has been in the news a lot over the last year or so, and not for her acting. There’s no need to get into the scandal she was involved in, since it has no bearing on her work here. However, it never hurts to have a showy performance to refocus audiences on your skills. At times, the drama Tammy’s Always Dying showcases Huffman at her best. At other times, sadly, it’s unfocused and doesn’t make proper use of her talents. It’s an uneven movie that sees the unevenness trickle down to all involved. Some elements work, some don’t. It ultimately creates a mixed bag that’s just shy of recommendation worthy.

The film looks at the dramatic relationship between a troubled mother and daughter. For Catherine MacDonald (Anastasia Phillips) and her hard drinking/self destructive mother Tammy MacDonald (Huffman), the same routine plays out at the end of each month. On the 29th, Tammy goes to kill herself and Catherine has to literally talk her off of a bridge. Their only support system, besides the government, appears to be Doug (Clark Johnson), who employs Catherine and cares for Tammy. This has dragged Catherine down to an incredible degree, to the point where, when Tammy is given a cancer diagnosis, it almost comes as a relief. Not only does this bring her face to face with a potential future without her mother, it spurs her to pursue a life outside of her town. Amy Jo Johnson (yes, the former Pink Ranger on the original American incarnation of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) directs a screenplay by Joanne Sarazen, with cinematography by Daniel Grant. Supporting players include Aaron Ashmore, Kristian Bruun, Jessica Greco, Ali Hassan, Lauren Holly, Tara Nicodemo, and more.

Felicity Huffman and Anastasia Phillips have some strong moments here, while Amy Jo Johnson shows some directorial chops. Unfortunately, Joanne Sarazen’s script is all over the map. Too often, the plot details seem to be going through the motions, leading to a falsehood in the developments. We’re supposed to ache for Catherine and Tammy, but the movie leaves you cold. There’s too inconsistent a sense of life to the events. Huffman and Phillips try their best, but the screenplay underserves them. Huffman is let wild by Johnson at points, leading to a broad turn, but she brings it home in the end with some effective final scenes.

Tammy’s Always Dying has a major case of being stuck between some highs and decidedly noticeable lows. When it works, it’s emotional and well acted. When it doesn’t, it’s overly dramatic, unbelievable, and frustrating. There’s also a lack of focus, alternating between the disaster that is Tammy and the flawed behavior of Catherine. Huffman digs into the crazier parts of her character, while Phillips is a very reactive actress. With better material, they really could have made these parts sing. Sadly, that’s not the case here, as Sarazen never gives them, or Johnson at the helm, for that matter enough to work with.

Tomorrow, audiences interested in some uneven family drama can give a look to Tammy’s Always Dying. As much as there’s some interesting moments here, too often the movie lacks a sense of life and livelihood, which is essential for something of this nature. Amy Jo Johnson deserves a better script next time around. If so, she has a great chance at becoming a really strong director. For now, though, this is just a sporadically interesting misfire. Make of that what you will. For me, this fell shy of where it needed to be, recommendation wise.

Tammy’s Always Dying is available on Digital this Friday.

(Photos courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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