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Reel Toronto: Tommy Boy

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Farley and University College, together at last.
We at Reel Toronto sometimes feel bad prefacing our postings with disclaimers noting that most films made here aren’t great films. After all, most of them have at least some redeeming quality.
It’s something you need to bear in mind when assessing the era in which the Chris Farley-David Spade combination was big at the box office. Tommy Boy is probably the funniest Farley flick, which might not be saying much. But we love the big guy and we love any flick that takes the time to tour Hogtown.

Run, Farley, run! But be careful crossing Queens Park Circle.
If you’ve never seen a Farley-Spade flick, the plots are pretty simple: big goof needs to be kept out of trouble/helped by pint-sized, smart-ass friend. That’s all Tommy Boy is, plus the “plot” from Billy Madison (dumb goofball needs to learn the ropes so he can inherit dad’s company).
At the start of the flick we see Tommy ain’t so sharp at a school, which happens to be the photogenic University of Toronto.
Yup, he’s late for a test, so we see him dashing across the Hart House steps, inside the building, and then across Hart House Circle itself. Rather confusingly, he looks up at a clock, which is actually behind him on the Soldiers’ Tower.
He runs to a class, right next door to the Sigmund Samuel Library, on the east side of King’s College Circle.
Does the real Sandusky airport lack a bridge or have nearby condos filled with people who complain about the airplane noise?
Having flunked out of school, Tommy returns home to Sandusky, Ohio. The local airport bears a mysterious (and no doubt coincidental) resemblance to our own Toronto City Centre airport.
The Callahan Auto Parts factory, owned by Tommy’s dad, is actually the Distillery District (as if loyal Reel Toronto readers can’t see a Distillery District reference a mile away).
What are the odds of both TD and Scotiabank operating branches in a small American town?
Eventually, Spade and Farley hit the road, touring a series of small towns in Ohio. Several local municipalities, including Newmarket, provide the settings. Probably the most recognizable is Port Hope, with its preserved, historic Main Street.
Big man + little boat = comedy gold.
Being the big, lovable guy he is, Tommy strikes up a romance with the once almost-famous Julie Warner. They have a nice, romantic tête-à-tête sitting on a dinghy bobbing on a picturesque lake. The scene was actually filmed up near Brampton, in the Heart Lake Conservation Area.
Chicago has a Flatiron building too, but it ain’t this one.
The film then returns downtown, ostensibly in Chicago, for its big city finale. Sadly, the obviousness of Front Street and the presence of TTC streetcars are dead giveaways that this ain’t Chicago, even if they throw in a pretty skyline shot first.
If you haven’t seen Tommy Boy, you might as well. It’s chuckleworthy. And while it’s not perfect, it’s not among the most egregious abuses of Toronto settings we’ve seen, so you can enjoy it on multiple levels.


  • Mark Ostler

    “Fat guy in a little coat.”

  • jenia

    “Your head’s a thin candy shell.”

  • MariaPD

    What about “The Tuxedo”, next time?

  • Ben

    Do Last Night!

  • Dillon McManamy

    May I suggest “The Wrong Guy”? It’s Dave Foley at his most brilliant and it’s pure Toronto!

  • Wrenkin

    “Inside the building” looks kind of like Knox college, and I think the still that says “David Newman” is the Trinity coutyard, looking south. I guess that’s before they stopped letting people film there.

  • lunarworks

    “What are the odds of both TD and Scotiabank operating branches in a small American town?”
    Well, TD’s got a pretty major presence down there now. (I did a double-take the first time I saw the TD sign in the US.)

  • mrblack

    just thought I would drop this in response to “Fat guy in a little coat.”

  • greatcop

    “Tommy likey! Tommy want wingy!”

  • vancouver

    oopsy daisies – the shot you link to of running across Hart House circle is actually him running in the sports field to the west of hart house and behind university college, off hoskin av. the absence of the student union observatory building gives it away.

  • David Fleischer

    Thanks for the pointers, everyone. I’ll stand by the “pobody’s nerfect” defence.
    Particularly on that “Hart House Circle” shot which obviously has the back of Laidlaw Library on the right side. Duh. If you map out Farley’s run it’s pretty funny, actually…
    Anyway, that’s DEFINITELY the Distillery District. I can spot that place in my sleep now.
    And thanks because all the movie suggestions in the comments go on to my list, even if it one day means I have submit to watching ANGEL EYES…

  • Mark Ostler

    I believe I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Boondock Saints