Tammy (2014)

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Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy

Rated R

Melissa McCarthy as Tammy
Susan Sarandon as Pearl
Kathy Bates as Lenore
Mark Duplass as Bobby
Gary Cole as Earl
Sandra Oh as Susanne
Allison Janney as Deb
Dan Aykroyd as Don
Toni Collette as Missi
Nat Faxon as Greg

Whether or not another raunchy characterization by Melissa McCarthy appeals to you will determine your like or dislike of Tammy. I will admit I am a fan of McCarthy’s work. I did not watch television’s Gilmore Girls, nor do I watch her current sitcom, Mike & Molly - however, I enjoyed McCarthy on the short-lived comedy Samantha Who? Then along came a little comedy called Bridesmaids, and McCarthy scored a well-deserved Oscar nomination. McCarthy played a similar variation on her familiar schtick -- a brash, vulgar, uncouth woman, with an obligatory heart of gold -- who finds some sort of redemption by the film’s conclusion in box office hits Identity Thief and The Heat. Audiences liked her, critics were divided (I have enjoyed all of her recent films). So far, the shtick is a good formula for McCarthy.

This formula is unchanged in Tammy, written by McCarthy and her real-life husband Ben Falcone (who has a small part as Tammy’s boss at a fast-food restaurant). McCarthy’s box office clout and endearing public persona is largely responsible for getting this slight, less than creative comedy produced. What’s more, McCarthy’s appeal has extended to the Hollywood elite: Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates have prominent supporting roles. We also have Oscar-nominees Dan Aykroyd and Toni Collette, not to mention Sandra Oh and Allison Janney, both big television stars.

The plot, you ask? Here goes: Tammy (McCarthy) is a late-thirtyish ne'er do well: she strikes a deer on the way to work at her dead-end fast-food job. She looks more slovenly than usual when she finally arrives, and she is promptly fired. She skulks home, where she finds her husband (Nat Faxon) sharing an intimate dinner with a neighbor (Collette). Tammy leaves him, marching down the street to her parents' (Janney and Aykroyd) home. She demands help from her mother, but it's Grandma Pearl (Sarandon) who offers up cash and a car so Tammy can get out of town.

Lots of holes here. There's no set-up of Tammy's marital woes (they're referred to later), and given her current set of circumstances, it's easy to see why her husband would go astray. Collette gets about three lines in the entire movie, meaning a wonderful actress is curiously and woefully underused. The screenplay gives us Janney as Tammy's uptight mother, but some smarter dialogue could have illustrated why Janney has reached the end of her rope. You will also need to suspend your disbelief that Sarandon (who, sans old lady wig, is still a strikingly beautiful woman) is Janney's mother, and Janney is also McCarthy's mother. But I digress.

Chaos ensues, as it would, on the road, and it's clear that either (a) McCarthy was heavily influenced by Thelma & Louise, (b) Louise herself, Sarandon, missed her character and jumped at the chance for a lesser remake -- or both. Grandma Pearl is also an alcoholic, and she's not above humiliating her granddaughter and hooking up with a married man (Cole). The Thelma & Louise similarities continue, but I'll leave the rest for you to discover.

These quibbles are eventually easier to swallow, mostly due to McCarthy's irrepressible charm and comic timing. Sarandon is adequate enough in her role, but a better script could have offered her a scene-stealing performance. Bates, on the other hand, is terrific, as always. She shows up at just the right time, and her performance is winning. Bonus: I got a real kick out the fact Bates and Oh are lesbian lovers in the film, and the script does right by them (hooray!) in showing how they are clearly a loving and happy couple, despite the age difference.

The film borders on trivializing Pearl's alcoholism, and the script doesn't know what to do with her diabetic condition. McCarthy's "romance" with the likable Mark Duplass feels forced, but the storyline here improved marginally toward the end. Tammy is a criminal misuse of a varied and talent supporting cast. I can't get my arms around how or why they acquired all of this talent, and then gave most of them so little to do. Like I said, it must be the appeal of McCarthy.

I don't fully approve of Tammy, but overall I did like it. The film is diverting, sweet at times, and it moves along pretty quickly. My feelings and affection for McCarthy remain intact, but she would be well-advised to tone it down for her next big leading role. I have no doubt she has more Oscar-caliber performances in her future, but Tammy is not Oscar-worthy. It is worth a watch, if only when it premieres on basic cable. A $10 ticket price is ill-advised.

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