Tammy gives Melissa McCarthy a chance to grow and be funny
Melissa McCarthy returns to the big screen in ‘Tammy,’ but is this a case of more of the same or is she giving us something more?
I am a Melissa McCarthy fan … to a point. She really burst into stardom with her scene-stealing role in Bridesmaids and her TV series Mike and Molly (she was also a bright spot on the under-appreciated Samantha Who?). She had an impressive first-time hosting gig on Saturday Night Live where she showed a real range of characters from her patented obnoxious slob to a Mae West style old-time movie star.
Then she made Identity Thief which was just awful. Then she hosted SNL for a second time and pretty much did the same character over and over again. McCarthy followed those performances up with The Heat, in which she again played the same character but at least she had some great comedic chemistry with Sandra Bullock and a great supporting cast to play off of. It seemed that she was falling into a rut.
When the previews for her new comedy Tammy first began to appear, showing McCarthy’s character once again unkempt and obnoxious, robbing a fast food restaurant, it seemed that we were again in for more of the same. But McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, have managed to surprise by giving us what we expect but making Tammy a bit more human.
The story follows Tammy, a fast food worker who gets fired for being late (again) and then goes home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) having a romantic lunch with their next door neighbor (a bizarrely under-used Toni Collette). Tammy storms out and walks two doors down to her mother’s house and ends up taking off for Niagra Falls, with her boozy grandma (Susan Sarandon) in tow. Granny’s got the car and a wad of cash. Of course, things don’t go as planned, but Tammy manages to meet a nice guy along the way who may or may not turn out to be her Mr. Right. She and grandma also have to turn to help from a lesbian relative (Kathy Bates) after another robbery (for a good cause) sends them on the lam.
It took me a little time to warm up to Tammy, but once Sarandon joined the road trip and bonded with McCarthy, the film became warmer and funnier because it wasn’t just all about McCarthy mugging for the camera. Sarandon was very good in what is probably her first “character role,” but some of the film’s weaknesses is really on display with her character. Is she just a funny old lady who likes to drink and prove she’s still got it with the men? No! She’s an alcoholic (and a diabetic!) who needs help. The shift in tone was a bit strange to say the least. We’re laughing at her antics and then we feel bad for laughing because she’s actually ill.
Mark Duplass also gives a very nice, very real performance as Bobby, the son of the man (Gary Cole) grandma hooks up with. He, even more than Sarandon, grounds McCarthy and even brings some real heart to the character and the movie. Their first meeting is pretty realistic as far as how it ends, and even when he comes back into the picture, you don’t know how things will end for Tammy and Bobby. The film is chock-full of big names in thankless roles, however. Collette’s appearance is just mind-boggling because the role (as it is on screen) did not require a “name” actress. Cole fares a little better, but he’s just mostly playing a drunk old man. Allison Janney pops up a couple of times as Tammy’s mom, the voice of reason character, and Dan Aykroyd makes a single scene appearance as Tammy’s dad. It’s a shame he was barely in the film because he and McCarthy really worked well together. Sandra Oh also has what is basically a bit part as Bates’ partner. It probably would have served the film better to have had all of these big name bit players as unbilled cameos instead of listing them all in the opening credits.
The film is directed competently by Falcone, his directorial debut, and he also plays a small role as Tammy’s overbearing boss at the restaurant. The script by McCarthy and Falcone manages to bring a new dimension to McCarthy, but it could have used a bit more evenness in tone. Overall, though, the movie is much better than Identity Thief, but not quite as comically sharp as Bridesmaids or The Heat. Fans of McCarthy, though, should be happy enough and those tired of her schtick should be willing to give Tammy a chance to see her grow out of her usual character. Maybe this will be a turning point for McCarthy’s on-screen persona (unless The Heat 2 becomes reality).