Day 305: Tammy

"Muscle shirts are for muscles."
Melissa McCarthy is undeniably one of the most talented comedic actresses of her generation. Unfortunately, she is continually saddled with roles that are basically carbon copies of one another, always playing a loud and obnoxious woman whose hardened exterior masks a sensitive soul, and who also puts off a vaguely homosexual vibe that's countered by ferocious acts of heterosexuality. With her newest film Tammy, McCarthy steps, for the first time, into the role of co-writer, producer, and star, giving off a faint hope that she may be attempting something different for once. Does the film succeed, or is it just more of the same? Read on to find out...
We meet our main character Tammy (McCarthy) as she crashes her already damaged car into a deer. She then drives her busted self in her busted car to work at a fast food restaurant where she is promptly fired for being late again, and when she returns home, she discovers that her husband (Nat Faxon) has been having an affair with their neighbor (Toni Collette). Desperate to get out of her small midwestern town and start over, she goes to visit her mother (Allison Janney) and asks to borrow her car. When her mother refuses, she asks her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), who has already heard Tammy's story and has packed her bags, and tells Tammy that she has $6000 in cash and is coming with her.
And so the two set off in search of adventure, but after the first night of drunken revelry, Tammy wants to go back home, and Pearl accuses her of being a quitter. Tammy insists that she is not a quitter, and the two set off in search of Niagra Falls, a place Pearl has always wanted to visit. A quick detour in Louisville turns into a longer stay than they anticipated when Pearl makes the acquaintance of Earl (Gary Cole), a local farmer with whom she gets frisky. Tammy and Earl's son Bobby (Mark Duplass) attempt to bond, though Tammy is simultaneously assertive and cautious since she is still technically married. A run-in with the law soon sidelines their trip, threatening to undo it altogether.
Tammy is an incredibly unusual film. It just sort of meanders from set piece to set piece with no real force moving it forward, which works both to its benefit and its detriment. Its beneficial in as much as it is a character piece, choosing to spend more time in conversation and situational humor, and very little time on incident and plot points. In fact, I couldn't really tell you what the plot of the movie is, as it changes so often it's hard to keep track. It starts off as a road movie, then it turns into a heist movie, a reunion movie, a romantic movie, and a life lesson movie. None of this is to say that a film can't cross into a number of genres during the course of its running time, but it really felt more like a season's worth of television episodes condensed into a ninety minute film.
Thankfully it works more often than it doesn't, and is a pleasant enough movie to watch, if for no other reason than it takes McCarthy just far enough away from the kinds of roles she normally plays to be considered different. It's a baby step in a new direction, but it's nice to see her doing something that doesn't follow the exact same trajectory that most of her characters have followed. She is incredibly good at playing those characters and imbuing them with enough pathos to make them endearing, but this film attempts to posit her as a romantic lead, at least for a portion of the film, and the only disappointment is that they didn't just go for it completely. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the advertising campaign for this film, which is total garbage. Centering all of the advertising around her robbery of a fast food joint, which occurs right around the halfway point of the film, makes it seem as if its going to be exactly like the rest of her filmography, and is a total bait and switch. Anyone showing up to see that scene for ninety minutes will be sorely disappointed.
If I haven't come right out and said it by this point, I will go ahead and say that McCarthy is terrific in the film, showing that she's at home in a role that's adjacent to what she normally does. Now someone needs to give her a part that's further away from this so we can really watch her shine. Sarandon is terrific as well, having a blast playing a woman who knows that the end of her life is near, and is ready to chuck caution out of the window and live it up. If anything it made me sad that she doesn't get offered more roles that tap into her versatility. The rest of the supporting cast is aces as well, which is to be expected from comedic powerhouses like Cole, Janney, and Kathy Bates, who shows up to do her Kathy Bates thing late in the second act, and succeeds wildly.
McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone co-wrote the screenplay, with Falcone making his directorial debut on the film, and he does a serviceable job behind the camera. The one thing that really stands out about his direction is the flattering way in which he shoots his wife. The lighting and angles he use really allow her to shine, despite the tragic wig and costume choices made for the character. He proves to be as adept as Paul Feig (BridesmaidsThe Heat) at directing female-centric comedy and will hopefully continue to grow the way Feig has with subsequent projects.
Tammy is an unremarkable movie plot, character, and joke-wise, but for a film that is 90% centered around women, it's as good as one can hope for. There's nothing earth shattering happening on the surface, but the fact that it is the first film in a number of months to portray women as complex beings rather than shrill stereotypes (cough, The Other Woman, cough) makes it stand out. It's certainly not all that it could have been, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not a failure, and it's taking McCarthy to places she needs to continue to explore lest she be accused of doing the same thing in every film. It's a baby step in the right direction, but I'll take a any step over feet shuffling any day of the week.
GO Rating: 3/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]