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Felicity Huffman, left, and Anastasia Phillips in Amy Jo Johnson’s second directorial effort, Tammy’s Always Dying.

JA Productions

  • Tammy’s Always Dying
  • Directed by Amy Jo Johnson
  • Written by Joanne Sarazen
  • Starring Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips and Clark Johnson
  • Classification N/A; 85 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars

A uniquely Canadian exercise in down-and-out misery, Amy Jo Johnson’s second directorial effort, Tammy’s Always Dying, delivers a wealth of interesting talent to the table and leaves them to fight for scraps.

Following a mother-daughter relationship from if not hell, then at least a molten circle near it, Johnson focuses half of her film on dive bartender Catherine (Anastasia Phillips), whose life is going nowhere slowly, and the other half on Tammy (Felicity Huffman), a fall-down drunk whose only goal in life is to make her daughter miserable. And threaten suicide whenever her monthly welfare cheque is depleted. In the margins of the story are Catherine’s manager, Doug (Clark Johnson), and her old high-school flame, Reggie (Aaron Ashmore), who she sleeps with whenever his wife is slightly out of frame.

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Tammy, played by Felicity Huffman, is a fall-down drunk whose only goal in life is to make her daughter miserable. Clark Johnson, right, plays bartender Catherine's manager Doug.

JA Productions

Johnson turns her characters’ lives slightly upside down after Tammy receives some startling medical news, but mostly everyone here glumly goes through what appears to be the same dreary motions they’ve dedicated decades to getting down pat. Johnson and her writer, Joanne Sarazen, seem disinterested in watching their characters grow or change, which ends up equalling precious little tension. This might not be fatal were Tammy, Catherine and the gang interesting to begin with, but with the exception of peripheral sidekick Doug (given a wonderful hint of an interior life thanks to Johnson), they’re not.

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Huffman’s recent run-in with the law over the U.S. admissions scandal has surely dinged the movie's awards potential.

JA Productions

The film also suffers from bad timing. Not just because COVID-19 has forced producers to send the movie directly to digital release instead of a limited theatrical run, but because Huffman’s recent run-in with the law has surely dinged its awards potential. I can only imagine Johnson was hoping that her film would help elevate the Desperate Housewives actor back to something approaching the recognition she received 15 years ago, when Transamerica netted the performer an Oscar nomination (although it’s hard to see that kind of film being made today, without a trans actor in the leading role). But college-application-scandal or not, Huffman doesn’t seem fully invested here – a slur and a tilt seem to be the totality of her acting choices, resulting in a caricature most followers of Canadian indie cinema have seen before.

Johnson does capture Hamilton in an interesting, down-and-out light, though. Not that the city will, or even should, be proud. But it’s something.

Tammy’s Always Dying is available digitally on-demand starting May 1

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