I predicted that this week I might have the first film of the challenge to drop below the halfway mark on my chart, and while I was right about that, I want to stress that I did enjoy Tommy Boy more than I actually expected to. 1990s buddy comedies have a tough row to hoe with me.
Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) has a tough row to hoe himself – he’s the none-too-bright son of a midwestern manufacturer whose big house and new money doesn’t help him get through college in less than seven years (he graduates after gleefully passing a history test with a D+). But that doesn’t get him down; he returns home celebrating and excited to join his father’s business. Not as excited is Richard Hadyen (David Spade), an old high school classmate who works for Big Tom Callahan and is bitter that Tommy gets all the praise without having any of the smarts. When Big Tom dies, Tommy and Richard are forced to go on the road together to get enough sales to keep the business afloat.
There were a lot of individual things I enjoyed quite a bit in the film. For instance, I really appreciated that Big Tom genuinely loves his son for who he is – a lot of these kinds of movies have a “live up to a father’s expectations” angle to them, and this one just doesn’t. Big Tom is a fairly savvy and successful business man with a knack for getting as sale (which Tommy isn’t, at least at first), but he’s also a big, garrulous man who loves to have fun and is unapologetically working class despite his success. When he and Tommy cut loose at his wedding party, it’s a pretty great scene of a father and son truly enjoying goofing off together, regardless of what anybody else might think. (Of course, it doesn’t turn out too great for Big Tom, but that’s beside my point.)
The other standout scene is when Tommy is trying to sell a reluctant client on Callahan brake pads and mounts an elaborate and destructive illustration of why they’re better than the other guy’s pads using the client’s prized model cars. It’s just the kind of over-the-top and absurd scene that Chris Farley excels at, and that he’s not given to do nearly often enough in Tommy Boy. Too much of the humor is mean-spirited without being clever, or bawdy without being funny, or dumb without being absurd. Like, David Spade lasciviously watching a girl undress to go into the pool isn’t funny, it’s just gross, and his voyeurism being interrupted by Farley isn’t funny, it’s just uncomfortable. Meanwhile, incompetence in and of itself isn’t funny unless it’s absurd, and much of Tommy’s incompetence in the first half of the film is just pedestrian. The scenes where the film dips into absurdity, like the model car demolition, the deer breaking out of the car, and the guys pretending to be under bee attack to avoid arrest show what the film could’ve been if they’d committed to that tone and avoided the often painful one-liners and unnecessary vulgarity.
Tommy’s a pretty sweet character, and that helps a lot. Even though his growing relationship with Michelle is given fairly short shrift (oh, there’s the only girl in the movie who’s not his new stepmom, I wonder if she’s going to be his love interest, because of course she is), it was still endearing, and she was really enjoyable to watch even if her only role was supporting Tommy’s arc. The way Tommy unquestioningly accepted her strengths at traditionally guy stuff, like chasing off bullies, without trying to outdo or one-up her was refreshing.
Like I said, I found more to like here than I expected, but it wasn’t able to win me over entirely. A few admittedly great set-pieces and some solid character moments went a long way, but they were interspersed with a lot of jokes that just weren’t that funny to me.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Peter Segal, written by Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner
starring Chris Farley, David Spade, Brian Dennehy, Bo Derek, Dan Ackroyd, Julie Warner, Rob Lowe
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Tommy Boy entered my chart:
Tommy Boy loses to Outrage
Tommy Boy beats Fancy Pants
Tommy Boy beats Hare Remover
Tommy Boy loses to The Informant!
Tommy Boy beats Brokeback Mountain
Tommy Boy loses to Havana Suite
Tommy Boy loses to Twelve O’Clock High
Tommy Boy beats The Wild Child
Tommy Boy loses to Call Her Savage
Tommy Boy loses to The Masque of the Red Death
Tommy Boy loses to RED
Tommy Boy loses to Capote
Final ranking #2117 out of 3589 films on my chart (41st percentile)
It is now my #1 Peter Segal film, my #2 Chris Farley film, my #2 David Spade film, my #35 Buddy Film, my #42 Road Movie and my #25 film of 1996.
Tommy Boy was recommended by Ryan Stuckey, a friend from the Flickcharters Group on Facebook.
A few quotes…
Tommy: Lots of people go to college for seven years.
Richard: Yeah, they’re called doctors.
Tommy: Brothers don’t shake hands. Brothers gotta hug.
Tommy: Sorry about this wind, I can’t believe there isn’t any wind out here! This is ridiculous.
Michelle: Listen up, you little spazoids. I know where you live and I’ve seen where you sleep. I swear to everything holy that your mothers will cry when they see what I’ve done to you.
Tommy: [Trying to copy his father’s quote] Hey, I’ll tell you what. You can get a good look at a butcher’s ass by sticking your head up there. But, wouldn’t you rather to take his word for it?
Mr. Brady, Customer: [confused] What? I’m failing to make the connection here.
Tommy: No, I mean is, you can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a butcher’s ass… No, wait. It’s gotta be your bull.
Richard: [embarrassed] Wow.
Gas Station Employee: I’m starting to picking up your sarcasm.
Richard: Well, I should hope so, because I’m laying it on pretty thick.
Richard: You’re right! You’re not your dad! He could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves!
Tommy: Ketchup Popsicle?
Richard: Yeah. I learned everything I know from him. I didn’t have a real father, but you, he was your real dad and you just took him for granted.
Richard: “Hey I’m big Toms’ son, I screw things up, but it’s ok my dad will fix everything, so I’m allowed to be a MORON!”
Mr. Brady, Customer: [to Richard] But I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t like you, probably never will. You’re a smug unhappy little man and you treat people like they were idiots.
A few more screenshots…