George & Tammy

In George & Tammy, Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play two stars of country music, as well as two ahem… complicated characters

The true stories that Hollywood loves to transpose into films or TV series can be divided into two categories: those that concern stories known even outside the United States (what do I know, Chernobylbut as well Pam & Tommy), and those that instead speak mainly to the American public.
With George & Tammy – Paramount and Showtime miniseries not currently available in Italy, but which we can imagine seeing in the near future on Paramount+ – we are in the second group, because the world of history is so loved by deep America as it is substantially ignored in Italy, with the exception made for very few essential names: let’s talk about country.

George & Tammycreated by Abe Sylvia and directed by John Hillcoat, tells of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, considered absolute stars of overseas country and almost unknown to the general Italian public, who however will more easily recognize their two interpreters, i.e. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

The series, which was initially supposed to be a film with Josh Brolin (then remained only as a producer) is taken from The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George(auto)biographical novel written by Georgette Jones, daughter of the two protagonists, who at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s began a tumultuous relationship and a profitable artistic partnership.

At the beginning of the miniseries, George Jones is already a famous and appreciated singer, even if in a not very brilliant phase of his career, while Tammy (stage name of Virginia Wynette Pugh) is a young star with good potential who grew up idolizing George’s own career.

He is married but close to divorce, she is married to Don (Pat Healy), a budding singer-songwriter who is not particularly brilliant or likeable with whom she has started a large family, also bringing together children from a previous marriage.

When Tammy finally meets George, with the primary purpose of finding a way to collaborate with him to definitively launch her career, here is the patatrac: he falls in love with her, she has actually loved him since she was a child, and in a short time the decision to leave their respective families to start a love and professional story that will lead to great successes but will be tarnished by many shadows, until a separation that will take place not many years later (it’s not a spoiler, it already happened 50 years ago, it is not fair).

We are therefore in a slightly different context from the other great country love story that is actually known to us too, that is the one between Johnny Cash and June Carter, told among other things by the beautiful Walk The Line and kissed by the luck of a feeling that lasted until the death of the two.

With George & Tammyinstead, we focus on a shorter period, in which the two stars shone together more brilliantly than ever, and then separated again.

And among the reasons for these difficulties there is a murky mixture of alcoholism, domestic violence and a few other matte, which help us see in a different light a world, that of country, which due to the melodic characteristics of its music ( more than its texts) and stereotypes related to clothing, we are always inclined to think inhabited by funny cowboys and damsels in flowered dresses.
Here you are, George & Tammy seems to want to remind us that behind that shimmering surface, typically considered more bucolic and less transgressive than the world of rock, one can still lurk all the toxic dynamics linked to fame, stress, abuse of substance and people, the flourishing of great dreams and the collision of great disappointments (as we have also seen, in truth, in other recent products, such as Nashville or the ambitious but already cancelled Monarch).

To tell this story of light and shadow, George & Tammy he chooses the classic Hollywood biography cut, all in all linear and very concentrated on the description and development of the two protagonists and their relationship, however choosing to lean quite decisively on the side of darkness.

This does not mean that it is always a dark and hyperdramatic series (even if Igor Martinovic’s photography does not leave much room for bright and clear light, except in a few studied scenes of musical performance), but there is no doubt that the songs that we often find to listen to, interpreted by the hands-free voice of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, they always appear to us like a coat of colored paint spread on a gray wall full of cracks.

The impression one gets in the first two episodes (the only ones released at the time of writing this review) is that certain tensions and ugliness in the relationship between the two protagonists continually try to find an outlet in the music, only partially succeeding, as if of showbusiness, although malleable to a certain extent, could not really express what happens behind the scenes (with all that the musical career of the two was not immune from controversies, such as the one linked to “Stand By Your Man”, the song more famous than Tammy Wynette but also the most criticized, because it celebrates a certain submissive and all too loyal way of being a wife, used in the series precisely to create a strong contrast with the psychological abuse that the woman was undergoing at that moment).

Perhaps it is no coincidence, therefore, that Michael Shannon was chosen for George Jones, an actor whom so far we have seen the protagonist few times, and almost always in parts with a high rate of obscurity, for the very simple reason, and I hope Michael will forgive me if I say, that Shannon really has the face of a psychopathic bastard.

In reality, the two give life to a great performance, acting and musically, and although the series has just come out, Jessica Chastain has managed to get the nomination for best actress in a miniseries at the Goldel Globes (Michael Shannon instead remained mouth-watering dry).

In general, we are dealing with a classic product in its premises and in its developments, the Hollywood biography to which we are (well) accustomed, but this does not detract from its solidity and its ability to enhance two great performers with shots, dialogues and music that often stands up very well even just on a glance, on the vibration of an eyebrow, on the contrast between an apparently cheerful musical note and an expression of tension or fear.

Of course, if you don’t like country music at all, it is clear that a miniseries in which all the music, diegetic and otherwise, inside and outside the story, is country, could sound indigestible.
It’s not my case, fortunately for me, and if I have to mention the only thing that doesn’t add up is the difficulty in creating a romantic chemistry between Shannon and Chastain: both very good at carrying on their little quarrels and frustrations, they struggle more than necessary to make it believable that these two really fall in love, or at least believe it.
As mentioned, however, this is not exactly and precisely a great “love story”, or at least it is not only that, so it is a surmountable problem after all.

Why follow George & Tammy: is the classic Hollywood biography lights & shadows, written and directed with a sure hand and played by two excellent actors.
Why quit George & Tammy: they are characters almost unknown in Italy, dedicated to a musical genre not particularly followed in these parts.

George & Tammy – True story, good actors and lots of country