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by brianorndorf

"Party like it's 1989"
4 stars

You’ll find a trip back to the year 1989 in “Tammytown,” the first feature film from writer/director Phoebe Owens, and boy does it ever look the part. Lacking needed polish, the film is nonetheless a contagious affair, pulling the viewer into the lives of teenagers at their most emotionally raw and dimwitted.

It’s the last year of high school for the students of Hellgate High, and the social order is being disrupted in a serious way with the arrival of fresh face Tammie Pritchett (Anna Kaye). Dividing friendships and stealing the attention of the local boys away from ruling tart Tammy Sylvester (Jessica Aceti), Tammie is caught in the middle of a cold war, where Tammy is working to reduce her foes to social pariahs. Leaning on the friendship of a lesbian student and assorted familial ties, Tammie attempts to survive the year with her bangs and heart intact.

Taking cues from Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused,” “Tammytown” works more plausibly as a directorial exercise than a retro journey into the gushing heart of teendom. Owens is scraping this film together piece by piece, and it shows in the picture’s disjointed narrative and insistence on keeping the characters at a frustrating distance. Nothing really gels here, but it appears to be the result of first-time directorial jitters, not incompetence. The distinction is important to note because with the right budget and more proficient actors, Owens could turn out to be a wonderful filmmaker. You can sense it tucked away in the corners of “Tammytown.”

Avoiding most “Wedding Singer” impulses to underline the era’s exaggerated styles and carriage, “Tammytown” is more content to enjoy the time period, not make fun of it. Owens, with no money to play with, nails the minutiae of high school hell, using claustrophobic hallways and disorderly group drinking sessions to sell the nightmarish attitude of her small town location. The filmmaker also employs her epic cast to positive ends, spotlighting her troupe like a director truly enamored of her actors. That’s comforting to behold. Of course, these are acting novices who enjoy screaming their lines as though microphones haven’t been invented yet, but a few of them, notably co-star Kaye, show real promise, which Owens develops to the best of her ability.

“Tammytown” doesn’t add up to much by the film’s prom night conclusion, but it’s the journey here that counts, not the destination. Accept it as a rumpled slice of life; a day in the take-no-prisoners world of stiff-banged teen hierarchy, and there’s plenty of appeal to be found in this admirable riff on hormones and hangovers. And on top of it all, lovingly scored to the high school choral sounds of Lita Ford.

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originally posted: 01/12/08 10:13:14
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  23-Oct-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 18-Jun-2007



Directed by
  Phoebe Owens

Written by
  Phoebe Owens

  Jessica Aceti
  Anna Kaye
  Catie Gerlach
  Max DeJarnatt

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