I like The Who. I really do. Who’s Next formed a large part of my musical education towards the end of High School and the beginning of college. There’s hardly a bad song on that album. In the past ten years or so, though, they’ve kind of fallen to the wayside for me, replaced by newer bands and better old bands (The Kinks are way more interesting). But I’ll always like The Who, even after watching this hour and forty-five minute hunk of junk.
And oh boy, what a hunk of junk it is. I think I listened to the original Tommy album once or twice but the overly theatrical nature of it never really settled with my interest in what the band was doing on its other records. The movie has numerous faults but the biggest is probably the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Nothing here makes any logical sense nor do the performances enlighten that absurdity. Instead, they heighten it. The Who was never a really subtle band and here they and the actors around them are given free reign to do whatever the hell they want. This usually ends up in performances that don’t just go over the edge into bad acting, they swing back around to good acting and then go even further into bad acting land. Ann-Margaret is nearly unwatchably bad, her uber-physical acting reads most like Jenna Maroney’s overacting on 30 Rock, but that was a parody and I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be some kind of serious.
She’s not the only bad actor in the bunch though. Pretty much everybody outside of Roger Daltry (who doesn’t have to do much for the majority of the film, despite being its supposed hero) and Elton John get their characters some degree of wrong. If Ann-Margaret is almost unwatchable, Oliver Reed tips over into that category the second he enters the screen. The music isn’t compelling, either. There’s no clear delineation between one song and the next and they all start to sound the same after a while, with the notable exceptions of “Pinball Wizard,” “Sally Simpson,” and “Cousin Kevin”. The film picks up a bit once Daltry can actually, you know, sing and he rescues the final 45 minutes or so from being a complete train-wreck just through the power of his voice.
The story doesn’t work either. I like the idea that Tommy becomes “deaf, dumb, and blind” because of his witnessing a murder but then the film meanders around for an hour or so with people around him, uh, doing things around him. Then he discovers pinball and is automatically a wizard at it. Then, because the movie says so, he can see again and becomes the leader of a cult. Awesome. The cult gets all pissed off towards him and then other things happen and then the movie is over. The only character progression is in fits and starts. I can’t identify any themes outside a general distrust of religion and anybody who hold power over somebody else, but the film also doesn’t seem all that interested in those, either. It looks kinda good, which is about the best I can say for it. A modicum of restraint might have gone a long way towards making this an enjoyable experience. Instead, everything is blown to its biggest possible proportion and then beyond that. I can see people enjoying it, I just don’t know how to be one of those people.