Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ben Falcone
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Sandra Oh, Dan Aykroyd.
No, this is not a remake of those wholesome romantic comedies from the 50s and 60s that starred either Sandra Dee or Debbie Reynolds as the slightly naive country girl. Rather this is an abrasive, crude and painfully unfunny comedy road movie starring Melissa McCarthy, the star of tv series Gilmore Girls and Mike & Molly and who also delivered a breakout scene stealing performance in the raunchy comedy Bridesmaids. Since then McCarthy has become something of a box office success story, even though those films with her in a starring role have not been particularly good – films like Identity Thief, etc.
As funny as she might be in supporting roles, McCarthy simply cannot carry a movie on her broad shoulders. As beefy comics like the late John Candy or Chris Farley proved, being fat and physically ungainly does not necessarily translate into being funny on screen.
Tammy is essentially another variation on the odd couple road movie in which a mismatched couple hit the road, and while arguing and rubbing each other the wrong way come to learn some important lessons about themselves and their lot in life. The classic Trains Planes And Automobiles provided the template for other films that followed, including the recent Due Date, with Robert Downey jr and Zach Galifianakis as the mismatched couple on a road trip, which show how this genre should be done. The recent Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand and a grating Seth Rogen shows how the genre can fall short of expectations. And now the terminally dull Tammy hits an all time low.
We first meet Tammy Banks (McCarthy) when she is having a bad day. Running late for work her car hits a deer – the deer survives but the car is virtually a write-off. Then she is fired from her job at a fast food franchise by her unsympathetic boss (Ben Falcone, from tv series Joey, etc). And when she returns home she discovers that her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) has been having an affair with their neighbour Missi (Toni Collette, wasted in a thankless role).
Upset and uncertain about where her life is headed Tammy decides to hit the road and escape her small town. She is reluctantly accompanied by her oversexed alcoholic grandmother Pearl, (Susan Sarandon), with whom she shares an unhappy history. But it is Pearl’s car, and she does have about six grand in cash. The pair constantly argue, share a number of awkward encounters and misadventures, and even run afoul of the law during their journey of discovery. But by the end the pair have somehow bonded and learned to forgive each other for their past mistakes.
Tammy explores some universal themes and espouses some conservative values, and suggests that everyone is entitled to find happiness in their lives, even fat, obnoxious unemployed losers like Tammy. But the film also looks at the sort of emotional damage that dysfunctional families can unthinkingly inflict on one another.
McCarthy plays the sort of male equivalent of an Adam Sandler character, the unlikeable, whining, obnoxious and foul mouthed loser who initially grates and offends those around him before undergoing a transformation. For much of the 97 minute running time, Tammy is an unlikeable character who insults everybody, whinges about her unhappy lot in life, and the unfairness of it all. She is one of those characters who refuses to take responsibility for their own failings and direction in life, preferring to blame others for her misfortunes rather than taking positive steps to turn her life around and improve her situation. But by the end she has undergone a transformation, and becomes a more likeable person.
This is a vanity project for McCarthy, who has cowritten the lacklustre script along with her husband and director Ben Falcone. She has a self-deprecating sense of humour as she makes jokes at the expense of her unflattering, frumpy appearance and girth, and she also allows herself to become the butt of some physical humour and pratfalls. Unfortunately very little of what happens here is particularly amusing, and most of the attempts at humour fall flat. Comic low points include a scene where Tammy robs a fast food store wearing a bag over her head.
Falcone makes his feature directorial debut here and his handling of the material is heavy handed and unsubtle, and he basically batters the jokes into submission.
Sarandon (who starred in the classic female road movie Thelma And Louise, which provided the archetype for this film,) is easily the best thing about Tammy, and her infectious and energetic performance breathes some much needed life into the flat and moribund material. She hasn’t had this much fun on screen in ages.
And let’s not talk about how Sarandon is not old enough to be playing McCarthy’s grandmother, even though she sports a grey wig! Apparently Shirley MacLaine was the first choice to play Pearl, but when she dropped out the producers even considered casting Debbie Reynolds!
But the filmmakers have somehow managed to attract a stellar supporting cast to play the peripheral characters. The solid ensemble cast reunites several of the stars from the wonderful coming of age film The Way Way Back, such as Faxon, Collette, and Allison Janney, albeit in small roles. Janney plays Tammy’s cold and overbearing mother. Dan Aykroyd is sympathetic in his cameo as Tammy’s father. Kathy Bates is very good as Pearl’s lesbian cousin Lenore. Indy favourite Mark Duplass (from Safety Not Guaranteed, etc) is quite touching as Bobby, a cowboy whom Tammy meets in a bar and develops a blossoming romance, while Gary Cole brings some charm to his performance as his womanising father Earl, who strikes up a hot and heavy romance with Pearl.
But having two Oscar winners of the calibre of Bates and Sarandon on board ultimately reveals McCarthy’s shortcomings as both an actress and as a leading lady able to carry a movie on her broad shoulders. Tammy is one of the worst films of the year so far! Hopefully her next outing St Vincent, opposite the irrepressible Bill Murray, will be much more enjoyable.