Meet Tammy, she’s angry, aggressive, overweight and intellectually challenged. She’s also penned by Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat), queen of full-figured comedy and veiled emotions.
This brash, volatile but ultimately vulnerable side to McCarthy’s comedic heroines is nothing new. Take last year’s vacuous road trip comedy, Identity Thief, where McCarthy gave us a greedy swindler out for our hearts as well as our cash. McCarthy’s dexterous donning of emotional masks shone through in the face of Identity Thief’s muddled morals and outlandish events.
Now co-writing with her husband Ben Falcone, who also directs, McCarthy takes these familiar traits and dissects them with unexpected subtlety. Don’t let the predictable, puffed-up gags fool you, Tammy is much more than its hit and miss comedy. Tammy is warm, sensitive and pretty farsighted too.
In the film’s opening moments Tammy carelessly writes off her car, loses her job and finds out her husband is cheating. Her irresponsible approach to life is biting back and as far as we know, she deserves it. So far, so predictable. Until Tammy decides enough is enough and walks out on the man who’s disappointed her. It’s in this crushing moment that Tammy bears it’s emotional teeth and McCarthy unleashes the true extent of her emotional agility.
Instead of finding her husband beneath the sheets, he’s caught having a simple, homely dinner with the other woman. In a few seconds we learn it’s not the cheating that destroys Tammy’s marriage, but prolonged, isolation of affection.
“You never made me dinner,” she says, utterly broken. Striding outside, the tears flow frantically from her eyes and her voice breaks as it struggles to muster insults in a telling attempt at self-preservation. In these cutting moments, Tammy becomes something more than a run-of-the-mill comedy.
It shows us what it’s like to be undervalued and unappreciated. As Tammy embarks on a road trip with her alcoholic Grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon) - an adventure that’s brought about more by the depressed duo’s need to waste time than desire for self-discovery - it’s gradually revealed that Tammy comes from a long line of women who have undervalued themselves and been overlooked by others.
This is Falcone’s first effort as director and he shows a massive amount of confidence in his cast that does not go unrewarded. You can almost feel the camera relaxing behind McCarthy and Sarandon - a choice which fosters some beautiful and funny comedic slights of hand hinging on Pearl’s compassionate identification with Tammy’s skewed world view.
Even a predictable encounter with young farmer Bobby (Mark Duplass), who’s family ties are equally complicated, settles down into a sweet, kooky rhythm.
It’s the visual gags and stale scenarios that deflate Tammy’s creative balloon. McCarthy and Falcone insert unnecessary CGI roadkill, jet ski accidents, and lesbian parties. These failed attempts at crowd-pleasing reveal a general lack of confidence in their often brilliant verbal comedy. In contrast to the spirited dialogue, the bold jokes fall flat, failing to give the audience the credit they deserve, and risk bursting the subtle messages bubbling away beneath the film’s feisty crust.
With some rather blunt advice from aunt Lenore (Kathy Bates), Tammy comes back to that idea of responsibility - revisiting what it’s like to hit rock bottom in a world where nothing is handed to you on a plate. Tammy’s unappreciated efforts and spur of the moment sacking from a burger joint - a job that’s seen as dead-end by some and a harsh necessity by others - distills this idea perfectly.
Less funny than it is enlightening Tammy is Melissa McCarthy’s most accomplished film yet. Susan Sarandon steals the gags but McCarthy brings the emotional depth. Don’t expect to laugh out loud at the bold, brash comedy - be prepared to feel a little bit moved instead.
Running Time: 97 minutes