The success streak that Melissa McCarthy has enjoyed since ‘Bridesmaides’ couldn’t last forever. ‘Tammy’ may be her first outright failure as a star vehicle. The comedy isn’t a complete disaster, though. At least its failings are due to an overreaching ambition rather than just lazily strumming out the hits once more. It’s safe to say that her bounce-back movie is but a few months away.
With ‘Tammy’, McCarthy (as well as her co-writer, director and husband Ben Falcone) clearly wanted to take her brash, overconfident and slapstick-friendly persona and slowly peel back the layers to reveal a real person beneath the schtick. McCarthy opens the film doing her usual thing, ranting and raving as her car gets wrecked, she loses her fast food job, and her husband leaves her for another woman. Desperate for escape, she then jumps into a car with her alcoholic grandma (Susan Sarandon) for a beer-swillin’, stranger-bangin’, good old-fashioned bonding road trip. Things start big and broad, but gradually all of the characters who initially appear be comedic types are whittled down into sad little people in search of happiness. The movie peaks with the grandma/granddaughter duo finding love with a father/son team (Gary Cole and Mark Duplass) at an all-lesbian Fourth of July party hosted by Kathy Bates. This sounds like a big silly climax, but by that point it’s more of an awkward search of the soul.
McCarthy and Falcone’s plan to create a mainstream comedy that transforms into a Sundance feel-good dramedy is an admirable attempt. The trouble is that they don’t quite pull it off. The beginning is just too big and broad to ever segue into reality, and frankly just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. The final weepy act is quite cute and sweet, but as strong as the actors are, their characters never justify the transition.
Had everyone committed to the silliness or sad/funny warmth entirely, the film wouldn’t have been perfect, but at least could have worked. As it stands, it’s a tonal mess that’s awkwardly paced and emotionally inconsistent. It has a few highlights due to all of the talent involved, just not nearly enough to carry the movie.
McCarthy’s big comedy schtick feels a little stale in the early going, perhaps because by the time she got around to making this script, she’d already used the best moments she’d written for her character elsewhere. However, when she’s forced to play things straight towards the end, she reveals surprising depth as an actress that will hopefully be explored further in future projects.
Sarandon dives into her role with reckless, foul-mouthed abandon and is fun throughout despite having a horrendous wig strapped to her head. Cole gets in some good drunk humor, and Kathy Bates proves yet again that any movie could use a little more Kathy Bates in it. The cast is so strong that they almost overcome the weaknesses inherent in the inconsistent and probably endlessly rewritten screenplay.
There are certainly some things to be enjoyed in ‘Tammy’. As with what Melissa McCarthy represents in general, it’s nice to see a film filled with unconventional female characters unburdened by ogling or shame. The movie presents such a relentlessly positive approach to outsider characters that it coasts by on a certain charm. Unfortunately, the first-time screenwriters and first-time director just don’t have the skills in their tool box yet to deliver the type of story they’re aiming for.
Truthfully, all of the film’s failings are typical of any first movie. Yet this first movie comes several years into McCarthy’s stardom, so the flaws are more apparent and the uneven movie is being sent off to slaughter in a mass release. Had it played a few festivals as an indie before a quiet VOD release, it would never have gotten all the hate it’s destined to receive and might even have been back-handedly praised for the promise it shows.
Hopefully McCarthy and Falcone get at least one more crack at making a movie together. They have a clear voice and modestly ambitious intentions as comedy filmmakers. They may have fumbled here, but in a less expensive project facing less intense expectations, they just might deliver something special.