We see what you did there. Near the end of Adam Sandler’s 100 percent Fresh, he pays musical homage to Chris Farley. Sandler’s former SNL castmate is the
subject of a song that sounds like a Springsteen song. As he sings, old-school comedy clips from the late, great comedian are playing in the background. It’s
moving, especially coming from a man whose humor is frequently associated with childish, sophomoric humor, and Sandler tells the crowd once it’s finished,
“He was by far the funniest f—ing dude of all time.” Farley was so funny; it would be difficult for anyone to deny that after seeing him as a motivational speaker
Matt Foley or as the awkward host of “The Chris Farley Show.” He had the ability to switch from being obnoxiously loud and in your face, a one-man comedy
tornado, and yet lovely and sympathetic. Whatever he was in, he lit it up.
But could what made Farley such a triumph on SNL translate to the big screen, particularly in a leading role and especially amid all those high-budget movie
trappings: sweeping crane shots, a never-ending score, and formulaic plotting? That was the question Tommy Boy, which was published on March 31, 1995,
would respond to. The first film in Farley’s Movie Star series is a road comedy that follows privileged man-child Tommy (Farley) and his stuffy, dry-witted
caretaker Richard (David Spade) as they attempt to preserve Tommy’s family business. When it first came out, the reviews were mixed to negative (it currently
has a Tomatometer score of 42 percent). Variety mocked that “dumb is obviously trendy,” and The Independent called it “a comedy that might be a blast after
many pints but is generally best avoided.” However, the same characteristics that those critics used as insults were precisely what moviegoers of a particular
generation were seeking in a movie: one that was obviously stupid, best enjoyed with friends late at night, and loaded with memorable lines. Here’s why
Tommy Boy has remained relevant over the years.
It Proved Chris Farley Could Carry His Own Movie
Farley may have owned his skits more than any other performer to grace the SNL stage, as suggested above. He also demonstrated his remarkable talent for
tiny roles before and after Tommy Boy, perhaps most known for his roles as the depressed bus driver in Billy Madison and the drunken barfly in Dirty Work.
But you could understand the doubt in the lead of a feature: Would the joke wear thin? Would this character make sense throughout the course of a 90-minute
film? His extravagant persona somehow fits in with Tommy Boy. It’s his strongest lead performance (although Black Sheep, Beverly Hills Ninja, and Almost
Heroes aren’t exactly stiff competition), and it keeps you interested rather than waiting for a string of hilarious mishaps.
Farely And David Spade Have Undeniable Comic Chemistry
Another factor for Farley’s success as the lead in this scene? Spade is Farley’s skeptical antithesis to his trusting, naive counterpart. The two blends in well with
a lengthy list of comic teams, both traditional (Laurel and Hardy stand out despite their different body types) and contemporary (Jake and Elwood in The
Blues Brothers, John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains & Automobiles). Actually, Tommy Boy borrows heavily from the script of the latter film: Both
the destruction of their car (complete with a double-take when it is demolished) and the never-ending road journey with its diametric opposites are present.
Additionally, there appeared to be a significant amount of “life mimicking art.” (Or was it the opposite? The two acted like an IRL Odd Couple, as one of the
movie’s writers put it in a making-of documentary, with Spade frequently jabbing Farley with scathing remarks that would instantly cause laughter.
It’s Endlessly Quotable
Many of the scenes that appear in Tommy Boy are inspired by the same spontaneous, we’d be making fun of each other regardless of attitude. Consider the following conversation, which Farley and Spade purportedly overheard and subsequently inserted into the script:
Hey, does this outfit give me a chubby look?
Not at all. It’s your face.
Someone on the site noticed that Farley began singing the dialogue after they finished filming the “big guy in a small coat” sequence, which may have led to the
movie’s most iconic scene. It was reshot because they found it to be so humorous, and it’s hard to imagine it would have been as funny without Farley’s sing-
songy delivery. There are too many great comments from Farley to include here, and many of them have been repeated endlessly in college dorm rooms for the
past two decades and more, but let’s highlight these gems: Brothers gotta hug, John Hancock, etc. Herbie Hancock is present.
Dan Aykroyd Cranks it UP TO 11
Bo Derek, who plays Tommy’s new stepmom, was also nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. However, one minor character, in
particular, stands out above the others. I create automobile parts for the American working man because that’s who I am, says Dan Aykroyd in his role as auto
magnate Ray Zalinsky, leaning on his stereotypical-on-steroids Chicago accent. Zalinsky, who is ostensibly one of the movie’s villains, is a Bass-O-Matic
the motormouthed salesperson who delivers every utterance with such force that it makes his performance as Elwood in The Blues Brothers seems
understated in comparison. It’s hilarious and entertaining to see.
Farley’s Sweetness Is On Display
One wouldn’t have many reasons to watch this movie, much less go back to it, if Tommy was just a moron running into stuff, although, to be fair, it may be his
defining trait. But Farley’s portrayal of a spoilt know-it-all is quite loving. Even the few instances in which there is a suggestion of loss ring strangely real in
Farley’s hands since he wants everyone to get along and like each other. It’s the same devious move he used to end a bungled interview with Paul McCartney
with an “aww”-inducing moment of connection on SNL’s “The Chris Farley Show.” We may never know if he had more moments like that, but at least Tommy
Boy exists to serve as a reminder of what he was capable of.