In Tammy, we are introduced to the film’s namesake (Melissa McCarthy) during one terrible day where she pretty much totals her car, gets fired from her job at a Topper Jack’s fast food restaurant, and goes home, only to walk in on her husband (Nat Faxon) enjoying a romantic dinner with their neighbor (Toni Collette). Fed up, Tammy packs her stuff and heads over to her parents’ place – a whopping three houses down the street – in order to borrow her mother’s (Allison Janney) car and take a road trip to… well, anywhere that isn’t her hometown, basically.
Tammy’s alcoholic grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), agrees to provide the necessary vehicle and funding, on condition that her granddaughter take her along for the ride. The duo thereafter head off to Niagara Falls – a place that Pearl has wanted to visit for some time – but quickly wind up getting sidetracked on a series of escapades during their journey. Will Tammy manage to regain control of this ill-advised (mis)adventure, and maybe fix her life while she’s at it?
McCarthy has recently become a red-hot commodity in the comedy field, between her scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids (which earned her an Oscar nomination) and leading roles in the box office hits Identity Thief and The Heat. However, Tammy is the first of her movies that she’s written in collaboration with her husband Ben Falcone (who also made his feature directorial debut here). Unfortunately, McCarthy and Falcone’s inexperience behind the camera manifests itself onscreen – resulting in a road trip comedy that’s as well-meaning, yet messy as its protagonist – albeit not necessarily in the way intended.
Falcone, as the director, shoots everything in Tammy in a clean and steady fashion, so as to create a comical juxtaposition between the characters – including McCarthy’s outlandishly disheveled, childish, protagonist – and the more grounded world that they occupy. That approach does give rise to some funny moments of visual comedy that make effective use of McCarthy’s knack for silent comedian-esque physical slapstick and misbehavior – but by and large, Falcone and the film’s director of photography Russ T. Alsobrook (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) fail to create an engaging visual style. The final result is a movie that’s often on par with a comedy TV show in terms of its visual construction, but suffers from more awkward editing – often giving off the impression that, on the whole, Falcone didn’t really have a firm grip on the steering wheel during his first time driving.
Part of the blame for the film’s clunky editing, however, should probably be attributed to the script by McCarthy and Falcone. That Tammy features a rather loosely-structured narrative – one allowing for a fair amount of improvisation (or sequences that often feel semi-improvised) – was no doubt intentional, as the hectic nature of the story is a direct reflection of its protagonist. Problem is, the film’s screenplay just doesn’t provide enough substance when it comes to fleshing out the personalities, motivations and/or backstories of the players onscreen.
As such, Tammy is a comical character study that fails to shed much light on the inner-workings of either its eponymous protagonist or her peers – and while there are small elements of satire and social commentary peppered throughout, there’s no firm through line that would’ve allowed the movie to work better as proper farce, either. It ultimately falls upon McCarthy to carry the bulk of the film on her shoulders – which she does – whether it involves showing genuine emotional vulnerability or performing Homer Simpson-esque acts of buffoonery. The film’s many shortcomings aside, Tammy once again proves that McCathy is a comedic force to be reckoned with.
Susan Sarandon has the most prominent role to play here outside of McCarthy, though her role mostly involves riffing on her Thelma & Louise fame and donning grey curls to play the zany, boozing, grandma archetype (which, to be fair, she does well enough). Certain other cast members also get a moment or two to shine as they bring eccentric character types to life – specifically Kathy Bates as Pearl’s explosion-loving lesbian friend, and Gary Cole as a horndog love interest for Sarandon.
Sadly, most of the other recognizable members of the supporting cast get little to do here – be it Allison Janney as Tammy’s mother, or Sandra Oh as Bates’ significant other. The exception is Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) playing a sweet, if somewhat bland, romantic interest for McCarthy; their relationship makes for a decent inversion of the typical man-child/grown woman setup. Looking at the casting sheet, it feels a bit like McCarthy and Falcone were able to recruit a number of their actor friends for Tammy, but couldn’t find much of anything interesting for them to do in the film.
One the whole, Tammy is yet another effective demonstration of McCarthy’s comedic abilities – but much like its protagonist, the film is too jumbled and directionless for its own good. Still, the movie does have a fairly big heart and offers a handful of laughs, which might be enough for those moviegoers who are in the mood for some easy-breezy comedy entertainment during a summer holiday weekend. Everyone else can wait to catch this one on Redbox and look forward to McCarthy and Falcone (hopefully) doing better during their next turn at bat.
Tammy is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 97 minutes long and is Rated R for language including sexual references.