With July 4th right around the corner, there are a multitude of distractions at almost every American’s disposal. You can spend time with burgers on the grill and fireworks in the sky; you can hit the nature trail or catch some baseball and (gulp) soccer games (brave new world, indeed); you can even stay home with the family singing a George M. Cohan medley! With so many options on the table, there is just no reason for you to spend time with Tammy, a four-month early holiday turkey that is already more than done.
I say this as an unabashed fan of Melissa McCarthy who in the right vehicle can be more spectacularly fiery in her comedy than any aerial display that is coming this weekend. While it is unlikely anyone would accuse her of subtlety or stealth in her comedy, she still hits you like a sledgehammer to the face or a barrage of laughter grenades thrown all at once. That is probably why a comedy like Tammy, which posits to be more mercurial and introspective in its concerns about loss and disappointments for its central character, feels more deflating than delightful—a character study where the supposed laughs just drag us down deeper into the picture’s humorless funk, instead of relieving or entertaining. Ultimately, Tammy is as grim an experience as any road trip with an in denial alcoholic who suffers from diabetes can be. Which is technically the plot of the movie, so Tammy has that going for her.
When Tammy begins, Melissa McCarthy’s title character is down and out even before she gets fired or loses her husband in the same day. Following crashing her car into a deer, she discovers that her movie-husband Greg (Nat Faxon) has been cheating on her only hours after her real life-husband Keith (Ben Falcone) has terminated her employment at a not-McDonald’s establishment. The result is that a heartbroken and miserable Tammy runs away from home for the umpteenth time in her grandmother’s car. The only difference now is that Granny Pearl (Susan Sarandon) is tagging along with her in the hopes of escaping the possibility of dying in an old folk’s home.
A woman with her own problems, Pearl chooses to medicate her diabetic condition with copious amounts of whiskey every morning. Together, they meet a sweet guy and his father for each of them to divvy up (Mark Duplass and Gary Cole), as well as a colorful supporting cast that does little to brighten this caliginous journey—though Allison Janney, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Toni Collette, and Dan Aykroyd are welcomed in any picture. But above all this is about Tammy finding direction in her life. Too bad she couldn’t also discover it for the movie she was in as well.
In fairness, Tammy genuinely feels like one from the heart for both McCarthy and husband Falcone who served also as her co-writer and director on the picture. As a result, the movie never feels forced or inorganic in its approach to character, which is filled with an array of strongly written and performed women, including McCarthy as Tammy, as well as Bates in the role of Southern gentlewoman lesbian Lenore, and Collette in an amusingly (almost) all-silent cameo. The one actress who dominates the movie though is not McCarthy; it’s Susan Sarandon who as Pearl is having a ball with her first character in years that isn’t defined by whose mother she is. Technically speaking, she is the grandmother, but that nominal title is in name only. This is a hard drinking, hard living woman who looks just as excited as the character to be there when the cars burn and the jet skis likewise give in to immolation.
Unfortunately, in such an attention-seeking role, Sarandon is unable to provide the kind of straight man anchor that McCarthy has leaned on for her most successful comedies. In both Bridesmaids and The Heat, McCarthy relied on Kristen Wiig and Sandra Bullock to stand there incredulous at the things she said. While it is nice to see Sarandon’s Pearl might be where Tammy’s defensive mean streak and meaner mouth comes from, both tend to wallow in their miseries instead of alleviating the other’s….or the audience’s. This isn’t a profound dramedy, but maybe it should have been.
Either way, the end result is a movie that is rarely funny and never entertaining. The most marketed scene in the film involves a good gag in which Tammy holds up a fast food restaurant when desperate for some quick cash. But the scene that represents the film best is when Tammy is later forced by her grandmother to give the money back. For many audiences, they’ll wish McCarthy and Sarandon paid them the same courtesy.