Rated R for language, including sexual references
Written by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone
Directed by Ben Falcone
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Dan Akroyd and more
There’s a sweet heart beneath the crude exterior.
On the surface, Melissa McCarthy’s “Tammy” looks just every other raunchy comedy to hit the silver screen the last few years. These movies get their humor from making people uncomfortable, and “Tammy” is more than happy to joke about giving animals mouth-to-mouth, sexual shenanigans with the local ice cream man, and inappropriate, poorly-timed come-ons.
It turns out, however, that all of that is nothing more than the blustery bravado of someone terrified to let their true self be seen. At its heart, “Tammy” is a story of redemption, of growing up, accepting responsibility and finding peace with who you are. The movie’s sense of humor is always odd, but by the end it’s much more interested in making you smile fondly than it is making you wince.
The movie opens as Tammy experiences a series of personal disasters, culminating in a not-entirely-voluntary road trip with her alcoholic grandmother to see Niagara Falls. The trip mostly consists of disasters, either barely avoided or slammed into head-first, as both women come to terms with the fact that you can’t run away from your problems.
As Tammy, McCarthy at first seems like a complete parody of dysfunction. She’s loud, unkept, brash, clueless about social cues and seemingly not very bright, and during the first part of the movie she’s the last person in the world you’d ever want to spend time with.
McCarthy tries to make these scenes funny rather than horrible, but the script hampers her. Humor based on making the audience feel awkward is difficult to do successfully, and a key element to pulling it off is to give the character enough confidence that pity never sneaks in to ruin the joke. In “Bridesmaids,” she pulls it off beautifully. Here, she just can’t get out from under the weight of how pathetic the character’s life is.
As the movie progresses, however, both the movie and the character stops trying so hard and do a much better job actually succeeding. McCarthy navigates self-doubt and ridiculous bursts of courage beautifully, and the robbery scene shown in the trailers has a kind of mad courage that makes it surprisingly delightful. When she finally does succeed, in her own unique way, it feels like she’s earned it.
As Pearl, Tammy’s grandmother, Susan Sarandon clearly revels in what may be the more purely comedic role. Though she’s far too young to actually be McCarthy’s grandmother, she abandons all pride (and hair dye) and dives into the role of a drunk old woman dreaming of freedom with total abandon. She’s fun to watch, and her affection for McCarthy feels genuine without ever diving into sentimentality.
Allison Janney is wasted as Tammy’s mother, a poor woman consigned to be the epitome of sweetness and normalcy, as is Nat Faxon as Tammy’s blank wall of a husband. Kathy Bates, on the other hand, is the perfect balance of eccentricity and grit as Pearl’s cousin Lenore, while Mark Duplass delivers a tender, understated sweetness as Tammy’s potential love interest. Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband, has a brief but excellent role as Tammy’s former boss.
In “Tammy,” what starts out as a joke turns into a surprisingly heartwarming emotional journey. By the end, I was happy that I went along for the ride.