I still don’t consider myself an expert when it comes to neuro-atypical people. That’s true despite the ubiquity of people who have such conditions. These are the considerations while watching the story here, about a character who has substance issues and suicidal ideation. Too unstable to work and needs government assistance that she reluctantly takes. Another consideration is how the story presents that character, and here it competently shows moments of chaos and its aftermath. Tammy MacDonald (Felicity Huffman) is home. She is awake just in time for her friend Doug (Clark Johnson) to come home to her. The silence they share shows his choice not to judge her, even though that’s easier to do.
Then there’s Catherine (Anastasia Philips) who literally has to drag her mother Tammy off a ledge. In adapting Joanne Sarazen’s script, director Amy Jo Johnson contrasts the way she depicts both women. Tammy is larger in life, while it shows Catherine with the things holding her back down. There are enough hoes of Catherine standing or walking around the low rises where she lives, or her smoking. Or her affair with a married man (Aaron Ashmore) which the story frames to be just as bad as Tammy’s drinking. As it turns out, they have to quit their vices after Catherine moves in with Tammy. She has to take care of Tammy, as children do when their mothers get cancer.
Tammy is the center of Catherine and Doug’s universe, so the mellow moments exist here as another way to make the story slightly more sedate. There’s a running gag where both Catherine and Doug bus to Toronto to pretend to be people richer than they actually are. The first time this happens, Doug and the waiter Jaime (Kristian Braun) play along, but later iterations of the scene has both men begging Catherine to skip the role playing part and to just order their drinks. Part of this is attempt to give Catherine a truth bomb but there’s a hint of classist sadism here.
Credit is also where it’s due to the way Johnston portrays Tammy’s body. There are scenes here that only women can shoot. And both leads match their director’s bravery and trust her. The story pays a lot of attention to its gender issues, but it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t do that for its class issues. This is, after all, a story about the welfare class, a class that has recently expanded. More audiences would have sympathy for characters like Tammy than they did in the past. I don’t necessarily find the depiction of class issues offensive here, it’s more I’ve seen a lot of those depictions in better film from the past.
Tammy’s Always Dying is available on demand.