by Philip Price
There was and seemingly remains something off about Tammy. Not just in the case of the titular character that Melissa McCarthy portrays, but in the nature of the film itself. After following up her breakout in Bridesmaids with successful runs in Identity Thief and The Heat along with a slew of smaller, supporting roles in major comedies and two stints on Saturday Night Live it became clear McCarthy was the real deal. Still, the idea she next chose to venture out on a low-budget road trip comedy directed by her husband Ben Falcone and was a project they wrote with one another seemed completely understandable. There was an intimacy to it that no doubt was unheard of in the mainstream crowd-pleasers she was taking part in before. McCarthy had earned her name above the title and so she was going to use that power to make something closer to her heart. This could only signal that the comedy and the execution of the story would be something that was cultivated by the husband/wife team and would certainly come across with more of an edge and better developed characters than most comedies these days, right? One would think so, but for all this pent-up optimism I held for Tammy she let me down in the toughest of ways in that not only did she not make me laugh or love her, but that there is essentially no reason for this movie to exist. That probably sounds a little more harsh than it should because it isn't the characters or even the situations that don't come up with anything it's just that they don't come up with anything new. I didn't really know what to expect from the film upon walking into the theater, but when it instantly became clear that this would be a film of self-discovery and redemption for a life without risk and full of regret through the format of a road trip comedy I was done. We've literally seen McCarthy go through this same evolution in the same way in the aforementioned Identity Thief so what was it that drove her and Falcone to make this movie over anything else? Likely a question we'll never get a satisfactory answer to, but nonetheless the point of Tammy was to capitalize on McCarthy's brand of humor and persona and while she is all over the place here she does no favors for herself or anyone around her as any laughs that came from the audience were more out of sympathy than anything else.
The problems start early in Tammy as the disheveled and dirty McCarthy stumbles late into the fast food joint where she works and is greeted by her manager (Falcone) in an angry fashion. Tammy comes off as a person who is rather out there as in not all there, but after being fired from her job she goes home to a life that seems drastically typical and neat compared to the elements she has so far displayed. Her car, her appearance and her job would all suggest a person so far off the beaten path there is little to no hope for them returning to what society deems acceptable, but then Tammy walks into a quaint house that clashes so hard with what she is set-up to be I literally thought there was a bigger joke at play. Her husband (Nat Faxon) is having an affair with the neighbor (Toni Colette) and in an instant of anger Tammy walks out, gathering a few of her things, and walks over a few houses to where her parents (Allison Janney and Dan Aykroyd) live. Tammy asks for their car in order to break out of this town, but Deb (Janney) won't give into her as this is just another instance in a pattern of failures it seems. Lucky for Tammy her Grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) is more than happy to break out of the house with her and offer her car along with her considerable savings to fund their road trip. You can imagine where things go from here as both Tammy and Pearl come upon adventures and challenges that bring them together, force them apart and allow them to examine themselves and their lives a little bit closer.
As the film opened and The Outfields "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight" blasted over the production logos I was hooked and ready to love this movie. It didn't take long to realize the film as a whole was going to be more McCarthy improv than scripted situations. Basically, the script seems to have existed purely to create structure and a sequence of consequences for Tammy and Pearl to get themselves in and out of, but would rely on McCarthy playing off her talented supporting cast (which also includes Gary Cole, Kathy bates and Sandra Oh) for the content. The music does remain strong throughout with consistent references to the types of songs that hearken back to the summers of taking it easy and a strong sense of nostalgia which the film itself is trying to be. Unfortunately, it never gains the kind of momentum a good song like that needs in order to hit the climactic chorus in just the right kind of cheesy/accomplished fashion to make it a journey worth going on. Instead, Tammy floats along, treading old water and at ninety-six minutes is half an hour too long. I'd hoped, from the trailers, that Tammy might be a simple comedy without the broad strokes of something like a road trip comedy, but would instead focus on the minuscule moments and countless self-evaluations that come with working a dead-end job in the fast food industry in your mid-forties. In many ways I wanted this to be a dark comedy, with an introspective study on how people who end up in the position Tammy's in come to be that way and what informed this long period of static in their maturity, but instead of digging deep while keeping things basic on a plot level McCarthy and Falcone fell back on an outline we know too well.
In the concoction of a script they did produce though it seems McCarthy and Falcone clearly wanted an unexpected archetype for Tammy to play opposite and in that regard is where the film succeeds slightly. In hiring the veteran actress she is able to create what the director and writers essentially need their titular character to be. Sarandon is able to give her Grandma Pearl the right balance of eccentricities fueled by her issues while keeping her real in a sense that if you or I were sitting next to her we could formulate an actual conversation. There are only a few moments when we believe this could happen with Tammy (namely when she is interacting with Mark Duplass). Pearl is as realized a character as we get here and while McCarthy, who attempts to bring genuine heart and emotion to Tammy's plight, is derailed by the overall tone of the film which suggests she should be a caricature. Therefore, such an exaggerated version of this real person we can sometimes catch glimpses of causes confusion not only in how the audience is supposed to interpret the character but completely jumbles the tone of the film along the way. Tammy wants so bad to be a grotesque comedy yet still have insight into the psyche of its main character. The film clearly yearns to be an interesting comic character study which is indeed an engaging idea, but the film never elicits the comedy from a natural state of being within that person. Instead, we are left to laugh at bits that heavily rely on fat jokes and improvisation that isn't honed to a presentable state. We all understand that McCarthy is overweight, this is obvious, but going out of ones way to continuously drop Cheeto and fried pie jokes is unnecessary when the physical comedy is enough to re-enforce this point and clearly where McCarthy excels.
The thing about this kind of multi-faceted character that Tammy is trying to anchor itself by is that movies should strive to create these kinds of layered individuals and audiences in turn should crave that kind of realism in their fictional beings, but Tammy has the inability to find this balance. Clearly McCarthy isn't unable to create and convey this more complex kind of character because she is indeed a multi-faceted actress as displayed by her consistent ability to move from the comedic tones into a delicate and moving persona. My guess is she would likely be able to better pull it off here were it not for the weight of the entire film resting on her shoulders. Tammy wants to be that ridiculous comedy so much though that it forces McCarthy to swing so far into left field with her act making it is impossible to come back down and establish any kind of serious connection. Ultimately what's wrong with Tammy is that it's just trying too hard. There are more than enough talented people on board here and I can't help but wonder why none of them stopped in the middle of either reading the script or shooting some of these scenes and questioned the quality of how good or bad this might actually turn out to be. The jokes shouldn't feel so rehearsed and the chemistry shouldn't feel so forced, but they do and it does. Add all of these complaints to the fact the film feels as cheap as it actually was (with a budget of $20 million this thing will make money with plenty to spare) and was put together in such a slapdash effort that the only thing we can really take away is that this went from being a passion project to little more than money in their pocket through the course of the production.