There’s a bittersweet quality to this week’s entry. While I regard 1996’s Tommy Boy as one the funniest films of all time, it can’t be mentioned apart from the story of its star, Chris Farley.
So let’s clear that ledger first. His is obviously a tragic tale, of a meteoric rise to fame and a life plagued by addiction and self-destructive behavior that brought about a tragic death at a far-too-young age. He’s not alone in that, sadly. Many compared his career to his SNL predecessor, John Belushi. Both burned bright, but short.
Whenever this movie comes on now, or even gets mentioned in conversation, the subject of its star’s untimely demise always seems to follow in quick succession. But when I see it, I like to let it take me all the way back, to the days before, when Chris was still with us, and this movie was the funniest thing out there.
At the time, I was just out of college myself, so Tommy’s “passing” grade of a D that allows him to graduate at the start of the film, followed by his trash-bag luggage on the plane home–it resonated with me. Before he was another SNL alum-goes bad story, he was my generation’s answer to the greats that had come before. He was the titan of comedy that belonged to Gen X. He meant we had all arrived, with a slacker sensibility and a sense of humor all our own.
This movie stands up as well because it has a genuine heart. Chris Farley’s performance is earnest and real, even as he leans in hard to the slapstick and the crazy. Tommy Boy is the story of a kid no one expected anything out of, who goofed off and pissed away his time on nothing much at all, but who proves in the end that he has what it takes to succeed–by doing things in his own unique way. He doesn’t get there quick, or by the most direct route–if he did there’d be no movie–but he manages nonetheless. He was a triumph for everyone my age and his best film remains among the best films in its genre.