Film Review: ‘Tammy’

Tammy Box Office

Melissa McCarthy wrote, produced and starred in this ambitious but middling comedy misfire directed by Ben Falcone.

A well-meaning personal project that never rises above the level of amiable mediocrity, “Tammy” feels like the kind of picture that can happen only when a major talent — here, the unsinkable Melissa McCarthy, who wrote the script with her husband and director, Ben Falcone — has amassed enough clout to try something different. Not that it looks all that different, initially: Playing a disgruntled Midwesterner who impulsively goes on a road trip with her boozy floozy of a grandmother (Susan Sarandon), McCarthy delivers another one of her patented loser-girl comic showcases, all coarse displays of temper, aggression and flailing ineptitude. That the performance and the movie ultimately aspire to something richer — a compassionate look at midlife malaise and cross-generational female bonding — turns out to be more admirable in theory than enjoyable in the execution by the end of this middling misfire.

Still, the fact that the public hasn’t proven terribly discriminating in its embrace of McCarthy’s previous efforts (the lousy “Identity Thief” and the enjoyable “The Heat” both grossed more than $130 million) suggests the Warner Bros. release could still post respectable B.O. numbers, at least during the July 4 holiday frame. After that initial wave, a sense of deflation seems inevitable, thanks to material that one suspects would never have attracted this level of talent — from cast names like Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Kathy Bates and Toni Collette to producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay — were it not for the sheer amount of industry goodwill that McCarthy has generated over the years.

Goodwill, alas, is not something the titular Tammy (McCarthy) tends to foster in others. We first encounter this hopelessly disheveled dirty-blonde creature on one of the worst days of her life: After striking a deer on the highway and totaling her car in the process, she gets fired from her job at a local fast-food joint, Topper Jack’s (Falcone plays her soon-to-be-ex-boss), then returns home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) romancing their neighbor (Collette, wasted). Deciding that she’s had it with life in her pathetic small town of Murphysboro, Ill., Tammy packs a bag and hits the road — something she manages only with the help of her similarly fed-up grandmother, Pearl (Sarandon), who agrees to let Tammy drive her Buick and spend her $6,000 or so in cash, but only if she can come along for the ride.

Sporting a frizzy gray wig to hide the fact that she and McCarthy are a mere 24 years apart, Sarandon (whose casting in both this and the mother of all gal-pal road movies, “Thelma & Louise,” is hardly a coincidence) throws herself gamely into the role of the saucy and troubled Pearl. As this bickersome duo head in the general direction of Niagara Falls, Gran’s personal problems threaten to eclipse even Tammy’s: A hopeless alcoholic who’s still as randy as she was in her wild and crazy youth, Pearl wastes no time in seducing a handsome older barfly named Earl (Gary Cole), leaving Tammy to make idle chitchat with Earl’s cutely standoffish son, Bobby (Duplass).

Through a series of hijinks either too complicated or too idiotic to summarize, Pearl somehow winds up behind bars, prompting Tammy to rob the nearest Topper Jack’s in order to post her grandmother’s bail. Naturally, she goes about this in the most dunderheaded fashion imaginable. But just when all seems lost, they’re rescued by Pearl’s sage old friend Lenore (Kathy Bates) and her partner, Susanne (Sandra Oh), who invite them to their riverfront mansion for a lesbian Fourth of July BBQ that provides an almost magical respite from all the shenanigans. It’s during this interlude that Tammy will have to deal with the heavy emotional baggage of her broken relationship with Pearl and figure out how to get her own life back on track.

Falcone and McCarthy clearly have some unusual goals in mind for a mainstream comedy, from their refreshing decision to crowd the film almost entirely with female characters (while giving the men comparatively short shrift) to their focus on laying bare the personal wounds, resentments, mistakes and compromises that have come to define Tammy’s tepid existence. Showing interest in a character’s emotional life while simultaneously subjecting her to comic ridicule requires a uniquely deft touch, and fortunately the film doesn’t go the easy “Identity Thief” route of squeezing McCarthy into the most annoying role imaginable, only to redeem her by way of a sudden physical and moral makeover.

Tammy, to her credit, isn’t quite so neatly defined, and she’s well served by McCarthy’s versatility as a performer, her quicksilver ability to slip from obnoxious and foul-mouthed one minute to tender and open-hearted the next. (Apart from the robbery and a jet-ski misadventure, the gags at the expense of Tammy’s physical clumsiness are kept to a refreshing minimum.) But Falcone’s attempts to spin this generally flat, formulaic comedy into an affecting character drama are frustrated by filmmaking choices that work against a sense of persuasive reality.

The hard-working efforts of both actresses aside, the tetchy grandmother-granddaughter dynamic never fully sparks to emotional life; scene for scene, there’s a weird lack of conviction or concentration at play here. Elsewhere, the (mis)casting decisions are so surreal as to seem almost deliberate at times; when Allison Janney pops up early on as Tammy’s mother (Janney is 11 years older than McCarthy and 13 years younger than Sarandon), the sheer randomness of it — and the sheer number of bizarre wigs being worn at any given time — pulls you out of the picture, never to fully return. There are charming moments here, as when Duplass’ shy Bobby gradually opens himself up to Tammy’s more assertive romantic overtures, but these feel like flickering exceptions to the rule.

Falcone encouraged his cast to improvise heavily during production — a strategy that never pays off, insofar as the guffaw-worthy moments are few and far between here. Shot mainly in and around Wilmington, N.C., the pic capably conjures a vaguely depressive Middle America milieu.

Film Review: 'Tammy'

Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, June 30, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a New Line Cinema presentation in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment of a Gary Sanchez/On the Day production. Produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Melissa McCarthy. Executive producers, Rob Cowan, Ben Falcone, Chris Henchy, Kevin Messick, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Michael Disco.

Crew

Directed by Ben Falcone. Screenplay, Melissa McCarthy, Falcone. Camera (Technicolor), Russ Alsobrook; editor, Mike Sale; music, Michael Andrews; music supervisors, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe; production designer, Jefferson Sage; art director, Richard Fojo; set decorator, Marthe Pineau; costume designer, Wendy Chuck; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Michael Rayle; supervising sound editors, Andrew DeCristofaro, Becky Sullivan; re-recording mixers, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker; special effects supervisor, David Beavis; visual effects and animation, Rhythm & Hues Studios; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic; casting, Allison Jones.

With

Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon.

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  1. Cary Opteris says:

    Such a long review for a movie that is not enjoyable to the point you probably can’t finish it. I know we couldn’t!

  2. Not your mother’s (or father’s) Tammy huh? If this was a “reboot” you can have it. Obesity is not funny. I would’ve been happier for her if “Tammy” got happy (and more attractive) out of town starting over someplace else instead of going home back to her mother.

  3. I was really disappointed in this film for many reasons but most of all because it wasn’t funny. The big name stars in the film seemed very uncomfortable in their roles and Susan Sarandon was miscast as the grandmother. And some of the dialogue was gratuitous not to mention the grade “B” set decorations. My Mom is 93 years old and doesn’t wear a grey curly wig! Clearly Melissa and Ben haven’t stopped by Murphysboro Illinois in some time or they would have seen a vibrant community nestled in the middle of the southern Illinois Wine Trail. Hey Mellissa, if you are going to pick on a town in the part of the country you come from the least you could do is make it funny so we could have a good laugh! FYI, Murphysboro is not a ‘shitty town”!

  4. susan day says:

    It’s a comedy folks and the risk with doing improv is all unpredictable. Kudos to Newline for letting them make this film.
    Corporate filmmaking wants to predict the outcome with every film now from marketing to algorithms. Just because it works on paper doesn’t mean it works in the real world.
    Im a tough critic being from the Midwest, writer n filmmaker and I thought her performance was balls out. There were some howling scenes n some poignant moments were I really felt for her character. I like that they took risk while most people don’t know that Susan Saraden preformed improv for a number of years.
    Regarding Ben’s first directorial debut, kudos. If you don’t take risk and put yourself out there, how will you learn. Yes, some of the set ups n pacing seem long but then again we are all use to corporate filmmaking pacing.
    I actually thought the pacing n comedy was better than Identity theft.

  5. Sandy Hunter says:

    I loved “Tammy!” Even though your bad reviews put me off, however, I remembered that if the critics hate it then I usually love it! It was sweet and funny and I walked out of the theater feeling good – for a change.

  6. You sure you’re not just picking on her because she’s overweight?

  7. Lucy says:

    Detail – Kathy bates is Susan sarandon’s cousin-
    Agee totally with the headline of tej review however- parts of this movie are funny- parts are pathetic- for the love if god- that lighting the jet ski on fire is ridiculous. Overall- the movie is embarrassing- making fun of Melissa Macarthy for being overweight- having her buy donuts- it is just sad- not the laugh riot you expect from the trailer

  8. ezekiel says:

    a one note act, she prob has a few more flix in her.

  9. Steve Johnson says:

    Being a projectionist in a multiplex digital cinema, I am exposed to both the very good and very bad cinematic efforts both domestic and foreign. I thought The Heat was perhaps the funniest domestic comedy of the year last year mainly because of Melissa McCarthy’s hard core, crude, rule breaking and overbearing character and how she played off of Sandra Bullock’s buttoned up, conservative, rule following FBI agent. That film had a depth and a heart that is noticeably absent in this effort, not for the lack of trying, but for the lack of character development and the absence of anything the average audience can identify with. My best example is the scene in The Heat where McCarthy has to squeeze her car into a parking spot too small to allow her out the door, something every driver can identify with and therefore can laugh over. I did not find similar situations in Tammy and even when there was a connect with the audience (the scene where she is trying to teach her grandmother how to sing “Midnight Rider”) the filmmakers milked it far too long, turning the scene into a boring, almost irritating exercise. I worry for McCarthy because with all the talent she has, she is in danger of becoming a one note performer. Tammy failed for me because she seemed almost muzzled, trying to be the obnoxious, crass rule breaker but without the necessary attitude needed to make that character convincing. My hope is for her next project, McCarthy steers as far away from that type of role as possible to keep from becoming a one trick pony. She has much more to offer the public (and her resume) than this.

  10. litalopez says:

    “Falcone and McCarthy clearly have some unusual goals in mind for a mainstream comedy, from their decision to crowd the film almost entirely with female characters (while giving the men comparatively short shrift)…”

    Unusual? Crowd the film with women? Give the men short shrift? Does this hurt your feelings? Make you feel uncomfortable? Guess what… that is exactly what has USUALLY happened to women in most movies for the last 100 years! We’re lucky when we get just two women talking to each other in any film and does anyone ever call that “unusual?” No, that’s the norm. But McCarthy, Wiig, Rudolph, Poehler, Fey & more are changing that. Get on board and check your sexism at the door. It’s no surprise to me that male critics love to knock McCarthy because they’ve never seen anything like her before. So, it’s easy to reject the unknown. Ask yourself if you would have ever made that comment about a male-driven comedy where the women serve only as objects of desire to unnattractive men. Would you even have noticed?

    • Justin Chang says:

      No, the high number of women in the film doesn’t hurt my feelings or make me uncomfortable. I actually find it refreshing for precisely all the reasons you noted, though I can see how it could be misread as written. For the record, I’m going to amend that sentence accordingly. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Dorothy says:

      BOOM! YES! I KNEW there were other reasons this review grated on me…thank you for highlighting that!

      • litalopez says:

        You’re welcome! Most “critics” are men and most reviews of this movie will likely say similar things. Also, notice how often Variety and other entertainment news sources refer to McCarthy as an “unlikely,” “unexpected,” or “surprising,” star. Like they just can’t believe a funny female exists, much less one who is not a typical stick figure with tits. No one ever questioned the veracity (SAT word for ya!) of stardom from say, the Belushi brothers, John Candy, Chris Farley, Jonah Hill, Kevin James, or even Jim Carrey (who actually plays the most annoying roles ever imagined) or Will Ferrel. No. Men get to look and act any way they want and never face the kind of harsh critiques that routinely get dumped on McCarthy. She’s breaking the mold and instead of being embraced for it, there are still far too many out there who want to hold her at arm’s length. Maybe they think if they ignore her, she’ll go away. Surprise! She’s staying and so are many more talented women following in her footsteps.

      • nimportequoi says:

        Ditto! I agree with you 100%…the men aren’t in the front row, so this critic doesn’t like the film – utterly biased!

  11. Dorothy says:

    Yikes. I haven’t even seen this movie, but the review reads more like an attempt to use SAT words like “titular” and “milieu” in a context it doesn’t really belong. You should probably consider matching the writing, or at the very least, the TONE of the review with the piece being reviewed; this review is so highfalutin ((one of my fave SAT words!)) that it makes me disagree with it before even seeing it. The kind of people that would enjoy a Melissa McCarthy movie are not the kind of people who enjoy being spoken down to–although, according to this writer, we’re probably too “idiotic” to get it anyway.

  12. ThomT says:

    Didn’t she make the same movie with Jason Bateman and call it “Identity Thief”. McCarthy is multi-talented but is going to typecast herself if not careful.

  13. Sandra says:

    I can’t wait to see it…..my daughter and I LOVE Melissa McCarthy, she’s so funny and seems so sweet, my daughter said she’d give anything if she could meet her one day!

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