You know how there is a cliché about old people not knowing how to handle technology? That was not true for my grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed away before the rise of streaming. He was also not long for the world of the DVD. He was a wizard, though, of the VHS tape. What I am about to tell you is illegal, and I by no means condone these actions. What he would do is rent movies from places like Blockbuster (remember those?), tape them for himself, and thus have a copy of a popular flick for next to nothing. It was by this means that I watched Tommy Boy (1995) for the first time. I do not recall whether anyone said anything about the moral implications of how it was obtained, or why my grandpa chose this movie. I think it might have something to do with having them ready for us when we visited. At any rate, as odd as it might seem if you are familiar with today’s title, this is what comes to mind when I am reminded of it.
The title, Tommy Boy, refers Thomas R. “Tommy” Callahan III (Chris Farley). The fact that it took him seven years to graduate from Marquette University, without attending graduate school, should tell you much about what he occupied his time with at school. For example, he lists Herbie Hancock as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. When he returns to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, it is time to go to work for his father, Thomas R. “Big Tom” Callahan, Jr. (Brian Dennehy). Much to the annoyance of Richard Hayden (David Spade), who is also employed by Big Tom, Tommy is given a plush office job at the automotive parts production company that bears the family name. Big Tom’s big plan is to open a new brake pads division, which means a large bank loan. This is not the only change to which Tommy returns. Since his mother had died some time ago, Big Tom has begun dating Beverly Barrish-Burns (Bo Derek) and intends to marry her. She also has a son of her own, Paul (Rob Lowe), who would become Tommy’s stepbrother. This is all derailed when, shortly after the wedding ceremony, Big Tom has a heart attack and dies. This leaves the running of the company to Tommy, which further irks Richard as he had hoped to have a larger role in the day-to-day operations. There are bigger concerns. With Big Tom gone, the bank wants to back out of the deal. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Callahan Automotive’s main competitor, Ray Zalinsky (Dan Aykroyd), is poised to pounce on the floundering company and buy it. Though Tommy does not know it, this is orchestrated by Beverly and Paul. They are not actually mother and son but con artists and lovers, though this last revelation comes later. In a rare moment of inspiration, Tommy comes up with a plan to save his company. He puts up his shares of the company and the house in exchange for the desired loan. There is a catch. Tommy must sell 500,000 brake pads that have yet to be produced or the deal is once more void. Given that he has little experience in making these kinds of numbers, he turns to Richard. Richard reluctantly agrees to go out on the road with Tommy, driving across the country and stopping at every company that sells Callahan parts to get them to stock the new pads. The trip does not get off to the best of starts. Tommy’s inept but well-intentioned sales pitches do not win them many clients. He also inadvertently, but slowly, destroys Richard’s prized car. Still, eventually they find their groove and the numbers start coming in. Unfortunately, this is when Paul ruins all their progress. Callahan’s sales manager’s, Michelle Brock (Julie Warner), is infiltrated by Paul and he sabotages the sales record. There goes the loan and Beverly and Paul move forward with selling Callahan Automotive to Ray. When Richard and Tommy find out what happened, they make a last-minute attempt to get to Chicago and prevent the sale by disguising themselves as flight attendants to get there quicker. They manage to see Ray briefly before being denied entry into the board meeting where Ray is sitting down with Beverly and Paul. Sitting outside and feeling dejected, Richard and Tommy’s spirits are revived when Michelle arrives. She has the aforementioned information about the real identities of Beverly and Paul. Of course, because this is a comedy, they cannot simply walk back into Zalinsky’s office and present their information. Instead, Tommy creates a fake bomb vest using roadside flares, finds a news crew, and forces his way into the meeting. These histrionics accomplish a few things. First, with the cameras rolling, Ray pledges to buy the required number of brake pads. He does so believing the company will be his momentarily anyway. With the sales contract signed, it is now time to reveal the information about Beverly and Paul. Doing so means that Big Tom’s marriage was illegitimate, and that control of the company remains with Tommy. Understandably, he decides not to sell Callahan Automotive, and the company is saved. He is able to present this good news to an appreciative group of his employees, including Richard. The last scene is Tommy on the lake in his small sail boat having a moment talking to his deceased dad.
As usually happens when I describe comedies, I have left out much of the humor in Tommy Boy. Some of it can be funny, particularly as it relates to Farley’s abilities as a physical comedian. A lot of it is inappropriate and makes it hard for me to recommend this movie. What is also difficult is talking about it from a Catholic perspective. What I will go with is the final scene. It does not seem like Big Tom is a saint, but what happens in the wake of Tommy conversing with his deceased dad is telling. Tommy is telling him all that he did to save the company. Unfortunately, he has got himself out into the middle of the lake. With no wind, it will be hard for him to be on time for a planned date with Michelle. Hence, Tommy asks for a little help, and gets it in the form of a gust of wind. This is not the best of comparisons, granted, but it speaks to some core Catholic beliefs. One is that we believe that we can pray for the dead, that they hear us, but more importantly that God listens to these prayers. It benefits us and those for whom we pray. More often than not, this comes in the form of helping our or their place in Purgatory rather than having filled sails on a becalmed day. On the other hand, there are times where these prayers do result in some kind of immediate, temporal effect. This is how we get saints. To be clear, a saint does nothing on his or her own. They take our prayers and intercede with God for us. When somebody is up for sainthood, the Church carefully examines the accounts of these moments in making the decision to move forward with beatification. For Tommy, he is just thankful for a moving boat.
As I said, I would not necessarily recommend Tommy Boy. There are many of you out there who will probably remember this movie and be bummed out by these thoughts. I am sorry if that is the case. In the meantime, I will pray for my grandpa’s soul.