Tommy Boy (1995)

Orson Welles & Billy Wilder agree: “Yeah, we’re not worried.”

(First things first: Thanks Little Brother for giving me this dvd for my birthday)

One of the most surreal things I’ve ever read on IMDB.com is the following Trivia entry for “Tommy Boy”:

The film is actually an update of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’: Tommy is the Prince, his father dies, his mother (Bo Derek) is Gertrude, in reality married to his “step brother” (Rob Lowe) who is Claudius. David Spade‘s character is Horatio.

I’m not even going to think about that. It just seems amazing that somebody found a “Tommy Boy”/Shakespeare connection, no matter the veracity.

“Tommy Boy” is one of my go-to movies for when I’m really deep deep down in The Abyss. This silly little road film always pulls me up.

The story is simple. Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) is a slacker, not the brightest spoon in the closet (that’s how dim-witted he is, that I had to make metaphor sushi to describe it). After seven years at Marquette, Tommy graduates, and returns to Sandusky, Ohio, where his father owns Callahan Auto Parts, the last remaining factory in town. Tommy’s widower father, Tom Callahan, Senior, (Brian Dennehy) has a surprise for Tommy: He’s marrying Beverly (Bo Derek), a beautiful woman he met at “a fat farm.”(She was a counselor, most definitely NOT a guest)  She has a son named Paul (Rob Lowe, clearly enjoying being an evil bastard).

Quick version: Senior dies. Factory imperiled, unless Junior can sell a bunch of brake pads. Junior goes on the road with Richard (David Spade). Richard is an insulting little dickweed. They can’t sell brake pads. Then, they can and DO sell brake pads! Something happens, orders don’t get where they’re supposed to, and the factory will have to be sold to “The Auto Parts King”,  Ray Zalinsky (Dan Ackroyd). Forsooth and behold, there is subterfuge afoot! Tommy, Richard, and Tommy’s girlfriend, Michelle (Julie Warner) save the day, and the town, and countless lives, and maybe the entire solar system.

Plus Rob Lowe gets his nuts cracked in a most cringe-evoking way.

Along the way, there are pratfalls, including one where a deer opens a can of whoop-ass on Richard’s formerly pristine muscle car. (note: The deer didn’t really open a can. Deer lack opposable thumbs on their hooves (or paws, if you’re Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas”), and thus encounter great difficulty opening cans, bottles, envelopes, checking accounts, etc)

Empirically, “Tommy Boy” is as simple as its eponymous main character, but it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. Nobody involved with this project thought they were making an Oscar winner or even an Oscar Wilde drawing-room comedy.

What is clear, though, is that they had a blast making “Tommy Boy.” Farley and Spade were best friends going back to their “Saturday Night Live” days (er, nights). Brian Dennehy and Chris Farley could easily be father and son, not just from their physical resemblance, but for the ease with which they interact. For a classically trained native New Yorker, Julie Warner charms as a small-town midwestern girl (the Levi’s denim jacket sealed it for me).

I resisted watching “Tommy Boy” for years. I had seen so many dreadful SNL cast movies, that I questioned my ability to sit through 90 minutes of hyperkinetic Chris Farley. He had some memorable characters in five minute SNL skits, but a whole movie?

Then, late last century, I sprained the crap out of my ankle while riding Amtrak to Mardi Gras. My first night in NOLA, I limped out to a liquor store for a half-gallon of Evan Williams. I bought a pizza and some Junior Mints. And some tequila. “Tommy Boy” came on HBO. I laughed myself nearly incontinent. I’ve seen “Tommy Boy” enough times now, that I know which jokes come up when; I anticipate the sight-gags.

It doesn’t get old for me, though honestly I don’t watch it all that often. However, when I need it, when I really need something to rescue me?

Tonight was one of those times, a rough night. I was hurting physically, and my depression’s hellfire was especially well-stoked. I couldn’t stand being around people. I needed to get here, to my home. I zapped up a big bowl of popcorn, poured a Diet Pepsi, dutifully took my meds, and fired up “Tommy Boy.” Soon enough, my pain and anxiety melted away. I wasn’t belly laughing like that first time in NOLA–there was no danger of laughter pee–but I did laugh & chortle, with the odd guffaw for good measure. Mostly, like a big goober, I smiled. And for the first time all night, I actually meant it.

Grades from the two judges.
Pretentious Sorta Film Critic tom:  B-

The tom in The Abyss:   A (with gratitude for always being there, you big dumb lug of a movie)

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