Tammy, the latest film starring Melissa McCarthy, represents an interesting step in the comedienne’s career. After years on television, a breakout/Academy Award-nominated performance in Bridesmaids, and standout co-lead roles in hit movies like The Heat and Identity Thief, her latest is her first opportunity to take an entire film on her back and carry it from end to end. Rather than being a significant step forward, however, Tammy is instead really just a side step.
Based on a script co-written by McCarthy and her real-life husband/director Ben Falcone, the new comedy begins as the titular character begins what must be the worst day of her life. She hits a deer on the way to work (completely smashing the front end of her car); gets fired for being late yet again; and returns home to find that her husband (Nat Faxon) has been carrying on an affair with a woman from the neighborhood (Toni Collette). Wanting to escape all of the screwed up elements of her life, Tammy makes a deal with her alcoholic, pill-popping grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) to hit the road, drive to Niagara Falls, and leave all of their troubles behind them.
While there is a good deal of earnestness present in Tammy, and even the right bit of sweetness, the film’s humor is rather middling. Like a ship that can’t seem to get that perfect gust of wind to hit its sails, there are no bent-over/I-can’t breathe/call-an-ambulance moments of laughter in the movie, simply a long string of jokes that may cause you to smile and breathe out your nose a little bit. It’s not so much a problem with the structure of the script – though the film is surprisingly small scale for a road trip comedy, and includes some rather rushed and unnecessary plot elements, like a budding romantic relationship between Tammy and a guy she meets at a bar played by Mark Duplass. There are a number of ripe comedic sequences set up throughout the plot, from Tammy’s firing scene to a fast food restaurant robbery, but none of them are able to really offer up deep laughs.
Certainly a part of the problem is what feels like wishy-washiness on the filmmaker's behalf in regard to the movie’s rating. Tammy is certified with an R-rating because the lead character says “fuck” one too many times, but outside of that aspect, the movie feels like it’s constantly holding back. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a PG-13 comedy, and I acknowledge that plenty of laughs can be generated without sex, violence or foul language, Tammy should not be that film. Both the train wreck and drunk granny archetypes scream out for lewd, dark and even gratuitous humor, but instead McCarthy and Falcone play it safe, to the disadvantage of the film
Tammy is definitely Melissa McCarthy’s show, as she is in what I would estimate is 95% of the shots, but Susan Sarandon really deserves recognition for what is a fun and strangely transformative performance. Only 24 years older than McCarthy, the veteran actress interestingly ages herself up for her role in the comedy, sporting a set of grey curls instead of her famous red locks and a few extra age lines on her face to suggest a life of hard drinking, and successfully really digs herself into the character. Again, she won’t make you cry in hysterics, but she more than holds her own comedically, both alone and playing off of McCarthy.
During a season packed with R-rated comedy material regularly hitting theaters, Tammy isn’t a movie audiences should necessarily rush to see. There’s a stellar cast at work putting on a number of surprising performances, but being unable to live up to its own set up and premise, and the few-and-far-between laughs are the unfortunate takeaways.