Whether from her days as Sookie on Gilmore Girls or her Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids, many people have become big Melissa McCarthy fans. Her over-the-top characters and knack for physical comedy have produced a string of box-office hits including this summer’s Tammy. As much as I would like to see McCarthy playing a different type of character, and as aimless as Tammy is, I enjoyed seeing McCarthy at work again.
In Tammy, McCarthy’s eponymous character loses her job and her husband, prompting the mature decision to run away from home. With her diabetic, alcoholic Grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon) providing money, transportation, and unwanted company, Tammy sets off for anywhere-but-here, which turns out the be Niagara Falls. On a stop in Louisville, Tammy and Pearl meet Bobby (Mark Duplass) and his father, Earl (Gary Cole). Earl and Pearl hit it off immediately, much to Bobby and Tammy’s consternation. Things between Pearl and Tammy get rough after Pearl ditches her to hook up with Earl, and their conflict ultimately lands the pair in jail. When Pearl’s health begins to decline, however, Tammy goes as far as holding up a fast food joint to get the money to bail her grandma out and take her to a doctor. Once on the lamb, the duo heads to the mansion of Pearl’s cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) and her partner Susanne (Sandra Oh), where the drama comes to a head.
From that synopsis, you might have picked up that Tammy is not a particularly well-plotted film. The movie seems comprised of clumsily strung-together genre tropes that work more to provide Tammy with opportunities for buffoonery than to actually tell a compelling story. In many respects, the film reminds me of Tommy Boy, but without any real stakes to the narrative. Believe me, it feels weird to be holding up Tommy Boy as a better example of storytelling. Nonetheless, I found Tammy as a character endearing and interesting enough that I wanted to keep watching even after I realized that the story wasn’t really going anywhere. As Karen Valby pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, McCarthy, “brings such genuine care to a role—from her wigs and wardrobe to the way her character takes up space in the world—and treats her creation with respect and affection.” Tammy is annoying and dumb, but also funny and interesting and McCarthy’s comedic timing is pretty genius. I think the problem with Tammy as a movie is that it invests so much energy in the characters, but in a film that pulls on plot-driven genres, released during a plot-driven season. I’m a fan of character studies, but there is an imbalance between the characters and the story so that Tammy ends up meandering as aimlessly as its title character. Perhaps that was the point, actually, but it does not amount to much more than a mediocre film.
Along with McCarthy’s hilarious performance, the film is brimming with other talented actresses. Small roles are played by Allison Janney and Toni Collette. Sarandon is funny opposite McCarthy, as her embodiment of a woman much older than she is in real life (Sarandon is only 24 years older than McCarthy) is a weird combination of manic, drunken energy and frailty. In their scenes Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh lend the film a more balanced energy.
Because McCarthy’s Tammy takes up so much narrative and comedic space, the supporting roles don’t really show much range, but the ensemble cast still shares a fun chemistry.
For wonderful characters but otherwise mediocre film-making, I rate Tammy 3/5 stars.
Tammy was written by Melissa McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone, who directed. It runs 96 minutes and is rated R for language including sexual references.
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