Tammy, the character played by Melissa McCarthy in the same-named comedy, needs help. It’s clear in the first scene. She drives an ancient, hideously green Toyota Corolla that looks lived in. She looks haggard and unkempt. And that’s before a deer attacks her, a nice prelude to the day’s unraveling.
I was supposed to laugh, but I felt pity for Tammy, another one of McCarthy’s manic creations. Basically, McCarthy and director Ben Falcone, her husband, want us to revel in the angry antics of a sociopath and then smile when she’s bestowed wisdom. Tammy should talk to a therapist. Let someone else star in a redemptive road comedy.
Following Tammy’s no-good, very bad day, she heads to her parents’ house. Mom (Allison Janney) shakes her head and says Tammy’s tantrum is part of a pattern. Tammy responds by leaving her Illinois town. She’s not alone. In need of a working car and cash, she reluctantly takes her alcoholic, hard-living grandmother (Susan Sarandon), who has both.
Both women have their reasons for leaving and issues between them. The road trip would be a good chance for some bonding, but McCarthy and Falcone (who both wrote the script) have the pair get lost and wreak havoc. Tammy crashes a jet ski. Grandma hooks up with a married man (Gary Cole), while Tammy awkwardly tries to hit on his nice-guy son (Mark Duplass). The ladies go for a drunken ride on a farm. And so on.
It’s textbook lazy comedy: look at the old people hook up! Gawk at Tammy, dressed in a wardrobe acquired from hotel gift shops, hitting on dudes! The oversexed granny has grayed and McCarthy is playing the same abrasive, aggressive character, just with a troubling DSM-5 diagnosis. We can’t root for these people.
Halfway through the movie, McCarthy and Falcone apparently realize Tammy isn’t a sympathetic protagonist, so they soften her. Grandma’s health fades. Duplass’ character ignores all logic and pitches woo. Tammy even gets a makeover. An unfunny comedy gracelessly transitions into limp melodrama, and we’re stuck in the middle. The movie revolves around Tammy and her moods, but since Falcone and McCarthy fail to establish the character’s emotional foundation and the world she lives in, “Tammy” is as unstable as its namesake. We don’t know why anything happens. It just does.
Too often, Tammy feels like a stranger in her own movie. She lives in a nice suburban neighborhood and has parents (Janney, Dan Aykroyd) who appear quite normal. What caused Tammy to become such a crass, rudderless soul who can’t hold down a fast food job and acts out like a guest on “Jerry Springer?” We’re asked to pull for a puppet, one whose act is starting to grow stale. Falcone and McCarthy bet her force of personality — further highlighted by the blandness of the supporting characters — will cover all sins. It does not.
“Tammy” shows why movies work better with actors instead of brands. For all of its broad comedy, “Tammy” feels cold and corporate — when it’s not causing us discomfort and confusion.
Rating: W W
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