For my third year participating in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, I, at first, considered reviewing an adaptation based on a book I’ve read. This would be similar to when I wrote about the 2002 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a perfect opportunity on my hands. That opportunity was the chance to review the 1975 film, Tommy! Years ago, long before I became a movie blogger, I saw a trailer for Tommy on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). On the one hand, the story itself seemed interesting; a man with disabilities living his best life and making his dreams come true. But, on the other hand, the visuals within this trailer appeared “bonkers”, making the movie seem intimidating. After reading some reviews, I came to the conclusion Tommy is a polarizing film. This isn’t the first time I have written about a movie that received mixed reviews. Two years ago, for another blogathon, I reviewed the 2011 Hallmark film, The Cabin. Historically, this is considered one of the most polarizing titles the network has ever created. When I got around to seeing it, I found The Cabin so bad, it was disappointing.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Prior to watching Tommy, I had seen Bye Bye Birdie. In the 1963 film, Ann-Margret gave an expressive portrayal of Kim MacAfee. The 1975 movie shows Ann-Margret in a completely different role, which allowed her to expand her acting abilities. Portraying the titular character’s mother, Nora, Ann-Margret gave a well-rounded performance! Because this story incorporates heavier subjects, her portrayal contains the emotional intensity required for a story of this nature. While watching television, Nora sees her son on TV. As she’s watching, a sense of guilt grows within her. This guilt causes Nora to appear disgusted, a grimace slowly overcoming her face. She attempts to change the channel in order not to see Tommy, only for the TV to magically switch to Tommy’s image. Angry about her plan not working, Nora throws her champagne bottle at the television, which results in a flood of laundry detergent, beans, and chocolate. Relieved to instantly receive the items she just saw in television commercials, Nora suddenly is taken over by pleasure. A smile appears on her face as she rolls around on the floor in the commercial materials.
When discussing a movie heavily revolving around a titular character, it’s important to talk about the actor or actress portraying that character. In the case of Tommy, that role was given to Roger Daltrey. Based on some reviews I’ve read of Tommy, it seems like Roger had little to no acting experience prior to working on this movie. Despite this, his performance was such a strong addition to the story! Roger’s portrayal had the emotionality and versatility to make Tommy a character worth rooting for. These aspects also held my interest in Tommy’s journey. In one scene, Tommy stays over at Cousin Kevin’s house. During his stay, Kevin tries to burn Tommy with a cigarette. As Tommy is sitting tied up in a chair, his face instantly changes from exhaustion and writhing in pain. This change in facial expressions is seamless, Roger never missing an emotional beat.
While I have heard good things about Tina Turner’s acting performances, this was the first time I had seen any of them. Tommy shows Tina portraying The Acid Queen. Even though her performance was limited to one scene, she gave so much energy to her role. While her portrayal was over-the-top, it fit the tone and vibe the movie was going for. With all that said, I honestly wish Tina had received more appearances in this film.
Ann-Margret’s wardrobe: Even though I knew Ann-Margret would be starring in Tommy, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked her wardrobe! Each outfit she wore complimented her so well, while also looking great on-screen! Toward the beginning of the movie, as Nora and her husband, Captain Walker, are running through the war-torn streets of England, she wore an asymmetrical, sky-blue gown. The dress itself was simple, but it was elegant enough to not be plain. Ann-Margret’s strawberry blonde hair paired beautifully with the color of the dress. Later in the movie, Nora wears a silver, mesh pant suit. Accompanied by shiny, silver sandals and a white furry cape, this ensemble boasted a posh look. While the outfit felt very reflective of the 1970s, it was a divine version of that type of outfit. Ann-Margret definitely pulled off this film’s wardrobe in style!
The symbolism: In some reviews I read about Tommy, it was mentioned how there was symbolism found among the over-the-top, flashier imagery. Since I knew before watching the movie there was going to be this type of imagery, it allowed me to focus on what the film’s creative team was trying to say through their story. In a desperate attempt to cure her son, Nora takes Tommy to The Church of Marilyn Monroe. Other patrons with disabilities are also in attendance, from a woman with a guide dog to multiple people utilizing wheelchairs. Marilyn’s likeness can be seen throughout the facility, with the most notable being a giant statue of Marilyn in the iconic flown skirt pose. I interpreted the scene as a piece of commentary on how people who claim to be religious and/or contain the ability to cure everyone with anything can, sometimes, take advantage of those in vulnerable positions. Those people could be considered “false prophets”. So, choosing Marilyn as the film’s church icon is interesting, as Marilyn’s name and image were all a fabricated version of Norma Jean.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Some villains not receiving their comeuppance: There were several characters in Tommy’s life that failed him. While a few of these characters did receive their comeuppance, most of them did not. Whenever Tommy went to stay at Cousin Kevin’s house, Kevin would physically abuse and torment Tommy. Kevin only appeared in a sequence of scenes showing Tommy mistreated by him. Because of this, Kevin’s comeuppance was never shown. I’m not sure if this creative decision was made because there wasn’t enough time to show each character’s comeuppance or if it was meant to show how unfair life can be.
Some confusing parts of the story: At one point in Tommy’s story, his parents take him to see The Specialist, in an attempt to figure out why Tommy has several disabilities. During this appointment, Nora and The Specialist continuously flirt with each other. After this scene, this interaction and The Specialist himself are not brought up again. I was unsure if Nora planned on leaving Frank to start a relationship with The Specialist or if she was flirting with The Specialist simply to encourage him to lower her son’s medical bills. Either way, the movie does not provide a clear explanation.
An unclear time-line: This story starts during and shortly after World War II. The script heavily implies Tommy was born sometime in 1945. Most of this story takes place when Tommy is an adult. If Tommy were, say, twenty during the film’s events, that would mean the story takes place in 1965. With that said, why do the wardrobe, set design, and special effects look like they came straight out of the 1970s? I know this film was released in 1975. But because Tommy’s age is not specified, the movie’s time-line is unclear.
My overall impression:
The way I feel about Tommy is similar to how I feel about Queen of the Damned. Is this one of my favorite films? No. Is it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year? Also, no. But, for what it was, I enjoyed it. Yes, the visuals can be “bonkers”. When you look past all of that, though, you will see the film’s creative team had something interesting to say. The story itself was easier to follow. The symbolism and messages associated with it appeared to be given a lot of thought and effort. Therefore, artistic merit can be found in this movie. The story of Tommy is a heartbreaking one. However, it is also a somewhat uplifting story. I won’t spoil the film for those who may be interested in seeing it. I will say when a climatic event happens, the moment itself feels earned.
Overall score: 7.3 out of 10
Have you seen Tommy? Are there any musical films you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section below!
Have fun at the movies!