For years Hamilton has been the backdrop for many films and TV shows—too many to list. But most of the time Hamilton is only standing in for some other place—usually somewhere—anywhere– in the States. Our variety of architectural styles in buildings and neighborhoods makes Hamilton a plausible Boston, Chicago or upstate New York. But in Tammy’s Always Dying—the film starring Felicity Huffman and directed by Amy Jo Johnson, Hamilton is Hamilton—never mentioned by name—but all Hamilton. The movie begins and ends at the Emerald Street footbridge over the CNR tracks, where Felicity’s Tammy, tarted up in tights and tottering on six inch heels tries to scale the railing to jump to the tracks below. That’s when her daughter Catherine (Anastasia Phillips) shows up and talks her down. It is a monthly ritual, repeated on the 29th of each month when Tammy’s welfare cheque runs out. Catherine is a bartender who once dreamed of ballet or playing the flute but has long since surrendered to the reality of her life—being an unwilling guardian to an alcoholic and abusive mother, and the occasional sex partner to a married man who has no intention of leaving home.
You can’t take your eyes off Felicity Huffman as Tammy—gaunt face, skeletal, dirty blonde hair going gray and mascara that makes her look like Alice Cooper when it is running, which is often. She is a tough old bird, profane, completely unapologetic and demonstrating no gratitude whatever for Catherine’s attempts to save her. It is an outstanding performance by Huffman but is matched by Phillips as Catherine. This comedy-drama shows what Canadian filmmakers can do. It is reminiscent of the tight little dramas you see coming out of Ireland—gritty little low-budget stores about true life. It is a welcome break from the gauzy programmers churned out for the likes of the Hallmark Channel.
Hamilton also co-stars, described by the LA Times critic “the Canadian town of Hamilton, just outside Toronto, is as cold, miserable and dingy as the cloud hanging over Catherine.” Its hard to say where the interior scenes were shot, but in terms of exteriors, the film hardly ever gets south of Barton Street. Catherine is seen driving a beat-up Plymouth along Burlington Street, under the Skyway Bridge and along rows of houses that appear to be in the Keith neighborhood. The movie makes no attempt to pretend it is not in Canada. Catherine and her friend take the GO bus to Toronto. The money she stashes in a sock (which Tammy steals) is Canadian. When Tammy gets ill, there is a reference to free medical care. This gem of a film was heavily subsidized by almost every Canadian Film fund available, and it is a refreshing use of Canadian taxpayer, lottery and cable subscriber money. It is currently on Pay-Per-View