6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Plenty weird yet compelling - and the music's great,
This review is from: Tommy (Special Edition) [DVD]  (DVD)
Having heard about Tommy for years, I felt it was time to actually watch the movie. I had never acquired much of a sense for what the movie is about, probably because I don't think it is really possible to actually explain the film to anyone else. This is some pretty weird stuff. As the thing progressed, I had a hard time figuring out if I liked what I was seeing, whether it made any sense, etc. In the end, I must say I did enjoy the film, thanks largely to Daltrey, the music, and Ann-Margaret. What does it all mean? That's a toughie, as I'm sure the story means different things to different people. I had the sense that Tommy is supposed to be some kind of spiritual experience, and in some ways it is - maybe.
Here's my ridiculously oversimplified summary of the basic story. As a kid, Tommy is messed up pretty good, having witnessed something pretty dramatic; as a result, he becomes deaf, blind, and mute - for psychological rather than physical reasons. His mother (Ann-Margaret) and step-father try all kinds of weird cures as Tommy enters what should be his adulthood, including a visit to the holy rollers at a church that worships Marilyn Monroe and a special session with "The Acid Queen" (Tina Turner). Nothing seems to get through to him - until, of course, he happens to come across a pinball machine. Truly, that deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball, knocking the current pinball wizard (Elton John) off his pedestal. Suddenly, Tommy's family is rolling in the money, yet Tommy remains uncommunicative. When he does eventually find "awareness," he is transformed into a messiah figure, and crowds flock to him to hear his wisdom.
The film gets off to a pretty slow start, as we follow Tommy's childhood. Then Tina Turner enters the picture as The Acid Queen, and she forevermore gets the joint jumping with her electric performance. Other memorable performers include Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson (who does in fact sing here). Ann-Margaret tops all of them with her performance, though, earning an Academy Award nomination for her work. It's a demanding role; alongside the acting and singing, she also has to roll around in a chocolatey, gooey mess. She may have been a little older in 1975, but Ann-Margaret definitely still had it.
The boys from the band pop in from time to time, but the story is increasingly focused on Tommy, his awakening, and his cult following. Some really obvious representations of Christianity are incorporated into the film, while, at the same time, greed and materialism are also spotlighted as false gods. Ultimately, though - thanks to a problematic ending -it is hard for me to discern the message that the filmmakers were actually trying to communicate here. I've heard that The Who's original album makes some of the more esoteric aspects of the Tommy story a little clearer.
Obviously, some individuals will not like this film at all; it's sort of an acid trip on film, vague and unsettling with its symbolism and discernible criticisms of organized religion. Others may find enlightenment of one sort or another. Most people, including me, will probably just look at this as a weird but oddly entertaining musical that leaves you scratching your head a little bit after you watch it. Of course, even if the story loses you completely, you still have plenty of great music from The Who to sit back and enjoy.