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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The early 90s were an Oasis in the desert for long-running television stalwart Saturday Night Live. Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, David Spade, and Adam Sandler are just a few of the big-name stars of the era who turned out to have solid to spectacular Hollywood runs (of which Sandler still enjoys). When I was a kid, I was always a huge Chris Farley fan. He seemed to have the bravado to go for anything, and make the stupidest of subject matters funny with his great gasps, exasperated cries, and unbelievably agile antics. He was the heir apparent to Jon Belushi (unfortunately in more than one way) and a breakout star during his time on the show. It’s unfortunate that he was also a severe drug addict and a people pleaser to a fault.
Moderation was a word not in Farley’s vocabulary, and ended up dead in his prime. I remember where I was when I heard the news of Farley’s death in 1997. I was 15 years old and leaving high school for the day when my mom picked me up. We heard it come across the newswire on the radio. I immediately felt a hole in my heart and a deep, sinking feeling in my stomach. A piece of my childhood passed away that cold December day. Farley left a brief legacy and cut short what could have been a fantastic career.
1995’s Tommy Boy was Farley’s first starring vehicle after his departure (or rather, his firing) from Saturday Night Live. A safe vehicle for Farley’s talents (it was co-written by long-time SNL writer Fred Wolf), Tommy Boy also stars the aforementioned David Spade as well as Brian Dennehy, Bo Derek, and a fantastic Rob Lowe. When his father unexpectedly passes away, Tommy Callahan (Farley) must take over his family’s business, win the respect of his father’s clients, and essentially save a whole town from economic collapse. Farley plays the role with a contradictory world-weary childlike wonder. He is simultaneously grossly incompetent and completely capable of his job, but it takes a journey, a friend (Spade), and a love interest (Julie Warner … what ever happened to her?) to help him realize it.
I first saw Tommy Boy in the spring of 1996 and immediately loved it. It’s a well-made movie with some fantastic physical comedy and hilarious set-pieces (Tommy haphazardly walking through the factory is a favorite scene of mine; another has him struggling to change clothes in a tiny airplane bathroom). Spade, at his snarkiest, gets some great, quotable lines in (and gets to sort-of reprise some of his SNL magic as a sarcastic flight attendant). Rob Lowe, positively noted earlier, is a great slimeball, at one point punching a window a young child has his face against and tossing an empty milk carton into a bassinet.
Many of the films I have covered in this feature have been pretty legitimately bad. I feel differently about Tommy Boy. Watching it a few weeks ago, via Amazon’s On-Demand service, I was surprised by how well it held up. I hadn’t seen it in maybe five years, but laughed heartily and was engaged throughout. When Tommy Boy ends, I tend to get really bummed out that Chris Farley didn’t go on to have a long, fruitful career. I can’t say I was surprised that he ended up dying so young, but that didn’t make his loss hurt any less. I’ll always have Tommy Boy though.
Next up in 1995, Die Hard With a Vengeance.