Two females who’ve been marginalized by society hit the road and discover laughter, adventure, and life’s brutal honesties along the way. Sound familiar? Not only is that the basis for 1992’s THELMA AND LOUISE, but it’s also kinda, sorta, vaguely the plot of co-writer/ director Ben Falcone’s TAMMY. However, the high praise is a stretch as this labor of love starring (and also co-written by) Falcone’s Oscar-nominee wife Melissa McCarthy and two Oscar-winners (Susan Sarandon and, in a minor but integral role, Kathy Bates) is a bit of a dud. Despite the talent on hand, the material unfortunately doesn’t work as either an uproarious comedy or a character study.
On the same day Tammy’s (McCarthy) janky jalopy breaks down, she’s fired from her job at fictional fast-food restaurant Topper Jack’s and comes home to find husband Greg (Nat Faxon) cheating (having a home-cooked dinner he made) with neighbor Missi (Toni Collette). Since he’s never done anything nice for her (side bar: How/Why’d they even get married?), it’s off to her mom Deb’s (Allison Janey) home – only she’s not really welcome there either. Life leaves her no option than to reluctantly hit the road with her booze-addled, pill-poppin’ granny Pearl (Susan Sarandon). Armed with more than five grand in cash, the pair set out in a big, blue Cadillac from Illinois to Niagra Falls. Rest assured these two have set course for some familial healing and life-changing experiences – including a lesbian 4th of July party.
Tonally, TAMMY is all over the place. Humor and heart don’t ever achieve a successful balance. But it does try. McCarthy and Falcone’s script takes some unexpected turns and isn’t predictable – not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not exactly great either. Plus the film is poorly staged: Why are she and Bobby sitting on the car within ear shot of their relatives having sex? Why not walk and talk instead? Why does Tammy sleep outside of the motel room when there’s a perfectly comfortable car she could sleep in? Many questions arise around act two, when you’ll wonder “Where is this going?” Shenanigans just keep happening to Pearl and Tammy at random. Also around that time you begin to question, “Am I laughing with her or at her?” There are plenty of potentially cheap physical gags, but McCarthy makes them work by elevating them beyond jokes just about her appearance. Rather, Tammy is a total loon; she’s rowdy, raucous and a riot – at least partially.
The stuff that really fails to work here (that works in McCarthy’s previous outings BRIDESMAIDS, IDENTITY THIEF and THE HEAT) is when the script goes sentimental. It’s akin to a Mozart concerto played by the drunk guy at the piano bar down the street. We can almost hear the discordant keys being struck during TAMMY’s wannabe heartfelt moments with Duplass, who plays Tammy’s love interest Bobby, and later with Kathy Bates, whose Harvey Keitel-via-PULP-FICTION-esque character Lenore hits her with a “no doy” lecture. McCarthy even plays a watered down extensions of those aforementioned films’ characters. Though she’s likable adorableness incarnate, I didn’t really root for her character’s change. I felt rather nonchalant about it. Her romantic chemistry with Duplass is non-existent. I’d buy them as friends, maybe; lovers, not so much. It’s disheartening that McCarthy, who has more range than this, keeps playing the same role. She’s a dynamic actress – see her work on GILMORE GIRLS and THE NINES (where she plays three different characters in one film). Why is America limiting her, or greater yet, why is she limiting herself?
There’s a scene in the post credits stinger with LOUIE’s current season-hijacker Sarah Baker where I thought, “That’s your movie! This is where this film should’ve begun!” Well, if America makes this a hit, and a sequel is greenlit, maybe I’ll get my wish and we’ll get the TAMMY film we deserve. As it stands, I’m at a loss as to what filmmakers were trying to say with this one.
2.5 out of 5
TAMMY is rated R and opens on July 2.
Courtney Howard is the Senior Editor/ LA Correspondent for VeryAware.com. She also is a contributing writer for ReelVixen.com, ThatsItMommy.com, and RockinMama.net. She resides in Southern California with her husband and perfect little dachshund.