Every once in a while, a movie illustrates the difference between “this is good” and “I like this.” On the one hand, Melissa McCarthy and her supporting cast from Tammy are all engaging and likable characters, and there are plenty of laughs in most scenes, but the whole thing taken together doesn’t add up to much. It’s fun while you’re watching it, but on the way home you start thinking about all the bits that don’t quite fit, and the movie starts to fall apart under the scrutiny. I came into the screening with very low expectations; I’m not a fan of the vulgar loser comedies cranked out by the likes of Adam Sandler, and the ads suggested that McCarthy was aspiring to be the female Chris Farley here. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tammy is a lot better and more appealing than I expected, though it’s really not a great movie. It’s got a lot wrong with it, but there’s a lot to like about it as well, so it’s rather a mixed bag. McCarthy’s Tammy is a woman whose life is going nowhere; an overgrown adolescent, she works at a fast food restaurant where her petty tyrant boss (Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband and the director/co-writer of this film) berates and ultimately fires her; when she returns home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) having a romantic dinner with the neighbor (Toni Collette, given far too little to do), she decides to leave him and hits the road with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), in another variation on the “mismatched traveling companions” plot we’ve all seen before (The Guilt Trip; Due Date; Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and a hundred others). Seeing Sarandon in the passenger seat does remind one of Thelma & Louise, though Tammy takes a few different turns along the way.
The cast does the best they can with the lightweight material, with engaging performances from Gary Cole as a senior citizen on the make and Mark Duplass as his hapless son (playing the same sort of schlubby nice guy he played in People Like Us and Safety Not Guaranteed), as well as Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh as Pearl’s lesbian cousin Lenore and her partner Susanne. There are some entertaining moments from Sarah Baker and Rich Williams as Becky and Larry, employees at the burger joint Tammy robs in an awkwardly funn y scene. It’s all amusing enough, as Tammy meanders from blue collar comedy to road trip movie to comedy-drama to serious drama to romantic comedy to farce and back to dramedy. Lessons are learned, bonds strengthened, and vehicles torched, until finally we’re at the funny out-takes over the end credits. The movie is marred more than anything by the jarring inconsistencies; grandmother Pearl needs to be in her mid-70s for her story to make any sense, but Susan Sarandon, in her mid-60s, looks great, and there has been no attempt to age her with makeup. This might be okay if Melissa McCarthy’s character were around 25; though no age is given, we have to assume she’s at least in her 30s (McCarthy is 43), which tends to make her crass, ignorant and petulant character more appalling than amusing; she should have at least grown up a little by now. In any case, suspension of disbelief gets a bit of a workout in trying to reconcile Sarandon’s character with her appearance. Throwing Allison Janney in as Pearl’s daughter/Tammy’s mother only exacerbates the problem; she’s too old to be one and too young to be the other.
More than the age problem is the class issue. I don’t know if it’s different in the Midwest, but in my experience, a person like Tammy is not often found living in a tastefully-furnished Craftsman bungalow in a pretty suburban neighborhood; more likely, she’d be living in a dank run-down apartment building on the skeevy side of town. There’s no explanation for how classy, upscale mom could possibly be either the daughter of a former-groupie-turned-alcoholic or the mother of a semi-literate foul-mouthed loser. Maybe Hollywood really doesn’t know how ordinary people live; they can’t tell the difference between upper-middle-class and lowlife. These inconsistencies eat at the back of your mind and distract from the film. All in all, McCarthy and Falcone have written a lot of funny bits, filled the film with incredibly likable performers trading heavily on their charm, and played to McCarthy’s considerable comedic strengths in a big way, but the effort seems hardly worth it in the end. Tammy would be an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half in front of the TV or on an airplane, but it doesn’t demand a theatrical viewing.
This film has been rated R for language, including sexual references.
Jim MacQuarrie is a comics and animation geek, a professional cartoonist and graphic designer, formerly a professional balloon animal twister, and a certified archery instructor (and yes, his arrows are green.) A father of three, he and his bride of 28 years co-write the lifestyle blog Blue Collar, Black Tie. (http://www.
* Jim attended a screening of Tammy for editorial purposes.