A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tammy's Always Dying is a drama with darkly comic moments about a suicidal alcoholic named Tammy (Felicity Huffman). She threatens to jump off the same bridge every month until her adult daughter, Catherine (Anastasia Phillips), shows up to talk her down. And then Tammy gets terminal cancer. If you're looking for a movie that shows "it gets better" or that suicide isn't the answer, this isn't it. Rather, it's an examination of a codependent relationship and how poverty disproportionately affects single women. Tammy is always smashed and acts like the life of the party for everyone except Catherine. But the movie isn't a condemnation of drinking: Catherine and her family friend/father figure work in a bar and are regulars at a different bar (where everything positive in Catherine's life occurs). Smoking is the cause of Tammy's cancer; both she and Catherine quit smoking as a result. Strong language is used in nearly every sentence ("f--k," "s--t," and more). There are a couple of brief but clear sex scenes, and Huffman is shown naked, with her breasts and backside exposed.
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What's the story?
Life is going nowhere for Catherine (Anastasia Phillips), a 35-year-old bartender whose alcoholic mother, Tammy (Felicity Huffman), threatens to kill herself at the end of every month, right when her welfare money runs out. Tammy's emotional suicide attempts may be insincere (she knows the bridge she says she's going to jump off is equipped with nets). But, every month, Catherine talks her off that bridge -- it may be her one skill in life. When Tammy is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Catherine has a choice to make. Will she sacrifice herself and endure the toxicity in her relationship with her mother to nurse her back to health? Or will she save herself by leaving her sick mom behind?
Is it any good?
This drama showcases an award-worthy performance from Huffman, who completely transforms to play the troubled Tammy. Tammy is a mess of a mother: She's a selfish drunk who can be cruel and cutting, yet she takes advantage of Catherine's love and pity to keep her daughter from leaving their small town. Tammy is familiar to us -- Huffman's mannerisms, voice, and behavior all feel real -- and yet she feels like someone who's never been portrayed on film before. The intricacies of the two main characters' toxic relationship wheel are fascinating.
Making her feature screenwriting debut, Joanne Sarazen proves that she's one to watch with this script, which focuses on the way poverty affects women (in this case, a mother and a daughter who only have each other). Where things go off the rails a bit is when Catherine fantasizes about profiting off her miserable life story as a guest on a Dr. Phil-type show. She meets up with an agent (Lauren Holly) who finds guests for talk shows and gets them paid to tell their tragic story -- a job that doesn't exist in the real world (talk shows have talent bookers, and any "coaching" comes from the show's producers). Catherine is so painfully real that this fake-feeling side plot undermines the authenticity of her story. And while there are definitely some twists and turns here, by the time the movie ends, you'll feel like Catherine: wishing you'd left a lot earlier.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about alcoholism's effect on someone's loved ones. What do you take out of the exchange when Catherine says, "You're depressed because you drink all the time," and Tammy responds, "I drink all the time because I'm depressed"?
Talk about the reality of suicide. What should you do if you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts?
What does the film have to say about poverty? Why is it so hard to escape?
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