July 06, 2014

Tammy

Tammy represents quite a lot of missed opportunities. It's a meandering comedy about a woman who would generally be described as "white trash" embarking on a road trip with her alcoholic grandmother. (Using Grandma's car and money.) The film opens with its star, the amiably blunt, unfettered, unashamedly not-all-together Melissa McCarthy, driving her beat-up green sedan down a narrow country road. She reaches in the back for something and careens right into a deer. Tammy gets out and crouches down, lovingly talking to the deer, patting it (dangerously near its impressive antlers) and praying it will get up and scamper off unscathed. When it does, it startles Tammy (laughter from the audience) and she happily watches it indeed walk away, unharmed by the collision. This scene is telling, because McCarthy usually acts like a stick of dynamite, and whenever a comic scene turns chaotic, she explodes. But here, as Tammy, McCarthy uses a little more restraint. She's not quite as profane as she was in The Heat. And she's not as worldly-wise as she was in Bridesmaids. But seeing Melissa McCarthy play a ne'er-do-well is kind of depressing. Perhaps because she's a regular person, so not Hollywood, it's been enjoyably surprising to see her play people who are capable and funny. Here she's funny because she's a putz.

Sadly, Tammy isn't the smashing comedy it could have been. This is almost exclusively the project of Melissa McCarthy and her husband, actor/director Ben Falcone. McCarthy produced the film, and the two of them wrote the screenplay. (Falcone appears here as the manager of a hamburger joint.) But neither of them seems sure of who or what Tammy is supposed to be. Is she the obnoxious perpetual screw-up of the first half of the film? If so, the film seriously errs when suddenly Tammy turns nice and gets cleaned up (thanks to her cousin Lenore, a rich lesbian full of homespun wisdom played by Kathy Bates, whose partner is played by the lovely Sandra Oh). McCarthy has scored a lot of points for being a blowsy wreck with a foul mouth. But I think the reason people fell in love with her as a performer was because she was an endearing oddity in Bridesmaids. She was the only character in that film who was brutally honest. Yet behind her honesty was love, not spite. Tammy is so much a caricature that when we get to the sweet side of her, it feels utterly manufactured. This character is a circus act, a "greatest hits" compilation of McCarthy's somewhat limited--although admittedly very funny at times--schtick.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so irritated with this movie if it weren't for the sheer waste of it. This film has in its cast, among others, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, and Gary Cole. Yet the characters seem poorly thought out, particularly in terms of age. They cast Saradon, who's 67, as Tammy's grandmother (McCarthy is 43), Allison Janney, who's 54, as her mom. That shoddy math bugged me throughout the film because a mother-daughter movie would have worked just as well. Sarandon is too fresh, too strong of an actress, to play the feeble but feisty grandma. It's as if they wanted to go for the short, prunish old grandmother (played by Estelle Getty) from The Golden Girls but cast Bea Arthur to play her instead. Sarandon really doesn't get to do that much of interest here anyway. And despite the fact that she does a lot of immature things (flashing her breasts at a lesbian party, shacking up with a stranger she meets in a bar), it's very difficult to see her as Tammy's mom. They just don't seem remotely related to each other. As for actresses Allison Janney and Toni Collette, I have no idea why they agreed to make this film when they had absolutely nothing funny or interesting to do (especially Collette, who barely speaks). Perhaps it was a favor? Certainly a misuse of their considerable talents.

There's also a tedious love interest, played by Mark Duplass, who's probably the most uninteresting romantic lead I've seen in a long time. The film seems ready and willing to give Tammy a redemptive streak, yet it's not bold enough to give her a hunky Channing Tatum-ish star (or someone with more personality) as a boyfriend. Perhaps they thought a bland character would balance Tammy like mayo on a chili pepper. (I'm not sure that's actually a thing...) Duplass is just too boring, too neutral, too unoffensive. He tells Tammy that he's attracted to her because his life is boring and she's very not boring, and Tammy rightly makes fun of his poor complimenting skills. Why did the filmmakers think this would be good comedy? It's makes for a lot of dreary scenes between them both. Why didn't they just find Tammy some hunky Tab Hunter-esque actor the way John Waters did for Divine in Polyester?

Kathy Bates was the most likable character in this movie, and even Sandra Oh came off well despite her limited screen time and dialogue. She has a lovely talent for facial expressions, and she acts circles around some of the more talkative characters. Dan Aykroyd shows up briefly as Tammy's father, but it's as if they just wanted to say, "hey, we've got Dan Aykroyd in this movie. You haven't seen him in a while! He's funny!" He does get one funny moment when he threatens to murder Tammy's cheating husband (played by Nat Faxon). Yes, Tammy is full of talented people assigned to undercooked roles, which may be the worst crime a comedy can commit.

There are amusing bits. Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is the one you see in the trailer, when Tammy holds up a fast food restaurant with a greasy paper bag over her head and another one fastened over her hand so she can pretend she's holding a gun. When the film stops being a road trip movie--because Tammy and Grandma are visiting cousin Lenore at her beautiful country house in Kentucky--it feels like a relief from the banal chaos of their journey. But mostly Tammy is a messy movie about the gloriousness of being a mess. I could vouch for the second part if this movie were more put together. That's one mess that does need fixing.

3 comments:

Arfsten said...

This is a good review Jacob. I kind of suspected from the previews that this movie would not be all that we hoped it would be. It's hard to be The Heat.

Anonymous said...
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pannedreview said...

Agreed. Hopefully next time...