Thursday, July 17, 2014
TAMMY (Ben Falcone, 2014)
In what amounts to hitting the bad day trifecta Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) wrecks her already beat-up automobile, gets fired from the fast food restaurant where she worked, and comes home unexpectedly early to find her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) having an intimate dinner with their neighbor Missy (Toni Collette). No car, no job, no loyal spouse, what do you do? In TAMMY her decision is to leave the Illinois town she’s always called home except she’s not really in a position to be able to afford that. Her own mother (Allison Janney) knows she’s unreliable enough that she won’t loan her a vehicle or cash in this time of need.
Luckily for Tammy her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) wants to get out of her daughter’s house and see Niagara Falls. She supplies the wheels and a big wad of cash to bankroll the trip, so off they go to escape their problems. They make it as far as Kentucky before the plan starts to crumble because of Tammy’s costly recklessness and Pearl’s misbehavior. Paying for the jet ski Tammy destroys eats up a major chunk of their resources. No longer a shut-in, the alcoholic Pearl picks up Earl (Gary Cole) at a barbecue restaurant, causes a scene at a convenience store that leads to her arrest, and stops taking her meds. Occasionally Tammy gets a little help from Earl’s son Bobby (Mark Duplass), but without any money she has to scramble to straighten out the mess she and Pearl are in.
After stealing scenes as a supporting actress and co-headliner, McCarthy gets the chance to anchor a film in TAMMY. Co-writing it with her husband Ben Falcone, who directs, there’s little doubt that TAMMY is the project she wanted to showcase her talents. Although McCarthy gets an occasional good moment to ply her comedic gifts, particularly in her scene sloppily holding up a burger joint, more often than not she’s having scenes swiped from her. Sarah Baker practically does this during the robbery as a less than fully cooperative cashier. Sarandon’s feisty Pearl is unashamed in following where her desires lead her, demonstrating that wildness in one’s younger years doesn’t necessarily diminish in old age. As Tammy’s wealthy lesbian aunt Lenore, Kathy Bates draws laughs as an unconventional role model. Lenore has a taste for blowing things up, suggesting she’s still something of a hick like Tammy at heart, but she’s also worked hard to build satisfying business and personal lives.
TAMMY tries to humanize the comedic slob character McCarthy specializes in. So often overweight, low income roles are easy targets for derision and humor. While Tammy is intended to be funny because of her buffoonish nature, eventually the character is supposed to be revealed as someone to laugh with than at. McCarthy makes a valiant attempt to give this kind of person a well-rounded representation, but she’s not altogether successful. Tammy’s redemption of sorts isn’t especially convincing. Feeling sorry for her isn’t nearly as enjoyable as watching her raise hell.
The primary problem with TAMMY is that it just isn’t very funny. McCarthy and Falcone deserve credit for making something more thoughtful than broad comedies like this tend to be. In an industry with male-dominated films, a feature centered around women that isn’t stereotypically touchy-feely is a nice break from convention too. When all those good intentions result in a mediocre comedy, they’re just a consolation prize.