It’s a little beside the point, but we need to talk about advertising, specifically in the case of Tammy. In short, Warner Bros. did a really cruddy job at serving up the summer tadpole. From its teaser sporting Coolio’s “Gangstas’s Paradise,” to its patriotic TV spots and ads with the slogan, “Declare Your Independence,” WB was pushing this as a 4th of July hustle about a wild-and-crazy girl knocking over fast food joints and having some R-rated goofs in the process. Melissa McCarthy being the star of many screens that she is, it was probably assumed that selling Tammy as a raunchy Kevin James-like fart show would be most appealing to the mall theatergoers of summer.
Tammy is a dramedy. It’s about a total screw-up and her grandmother leaving home and going on a trip cross-country with no place in particular to go. It’s neither a gut-busting screwball affair, nor a homespun yarn about failure, but it’s something clumsily working to deliver in the middle.Tammy’s certainly not perfect, but don’t look at this vehicle as the star-studded laugher as publicized, and instead as the middle-of-the road farce that it is. You’ll appreciate it more, trust me.
McCarthy is our Tammy, a rural Illinoisan burger flipper. She’s a little dim, a little loud, but ultimately quite human. Tammy’s having one of those nasty days that set off movies like this. In the first 45 seconds she slams into a deer. Resultant of that hit, she winds up late at her job at the Topper Jack. Then, not to be outdone, Tammy comes home to her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) making dinner for a neighbor that’s his new girlfriend. Bummer.
Tammy self-combusts, and runs home to her parents’, two houses next door. In a last-ditch effort to get out, Pearl (a shockingly surly, pale, and gray-haired Susan Sarandon), Tammy’s pill-poppin’, booze-belting grandmother offers her granddaughter the chance to run away with $6,700, if she brings Pearl along. Damned if the two have a plan or a destination. Tammy quickly turns into a road film of bad behavior, awkward divulgences, and modern families. The story is nothing particularly remarkable, but the rocky roads at least bring curious distractions. Oxycontin, fireworks, explosions, lesbian holidays, backseat hookups, the worst kinds of flirting and flings and secrets made possible through liquor; all are sporadic pit stops in Tammy.
The movie’s biggest impediments are the unrefined script and undemanding direction. That’s all on McCarthy and her real-life husband Ben Falcone (who also shows up as her greasy boss in the first five minutes). McCarthy and Falcone wrote the screenplay, and Falcone makes his directorial debut here. The couple does not have an assured hand on the material. Falcone directs like he could have used a few episodes of Mike & Molly helmed and under his belt. Camera placement, editing, timing, it’s all basic.
The cast is big and likeable, but even Tammy’s stars don’t have many great lines to work with. McCarthy gets by on attitude and that alone. She’s all personality, which finally fails her in 2014. All the improv of Bridesmaids and The Heat goes to pot for Tammy. Hopefully this wasn’t a passion project for the two, as McCarthy produced and likely had creative control for her and her husband. Tammy feels like first-draft material, a loose sketch around a decent idea with zero refinement or depth. That’s pretty harsh, yes, but that’s not to say there aren’t snippets of sincerity or general wisdom.
You can see the interesting ideas between the abruptly dramatic lane changes. Tammy learns and grows, getting to be the center of attention and the butt of the joke. Tammy, and more interestingly Melissa McCarthy, looks like she’s having a good time, and Sarandon as well. You almost feel like the rising actress is in awe of the company she keeps (great actresses like Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Allison Janney, and even a still somehow comical Dan Aykroyd). The laid-back vibe is at least a benefit, like these people just got to hang out, shooting parties and other light things like that last summer. Tammy and Pearl make mistakes, then evolve, then bond, and it’s all been done before, much more efficiently (Thelma & Louise, Terms of Endearment or Postcards from the Edge immediately pop in there), but Tammy doesn’t want to be a profound, larger-than-life legend. And don’t expect her to just pratfall for 90 minutes, either. Tammy just wants to get out and get weird with it with ‘ol Pearl.