Directed by Ben Falcone. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass. (2014, R, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 4, 2014
It’s rare for audiences – so judgey, so fickle – to rally behind a single movie star for very long, but ever since Melissa McCarthy’s coming out party in 2011’s Bridesmaids, she’s basked in the benevolent glow of the people’s goodwill. Fans of comedy like her because she’s great at her craft, skilled with both physical and verbal comedy. Movie execs like her because she makes bank, in well-reviewed films and critically savaged ones alike (her buddy cop movie with Sandra Bullock, Heat, falls in the former category; Identity Thief indubitably brings up the rear). Feminists itching for more diverse representations of female body image in Hollywood pictures like her because she’s not shaped like a No. 2 pencil with tits. In short: Most of us dig her. And we’re rooting for her. What could possibly go wrong?
McCarthy’s instincts at least were right when she metaphorically cashed the blank check of her meteoric success to mount a modestly budgeted comedy co-written with her husband, first-time director Ben Falcone. But what that unfettered creative control has wrought is ... not good. Point in fact, it’s pretty awful. So much so that I half-heartedly hoped Tammy might turn out to be some elaborate art-stunt, à la I’m Still Here, engineered by McCarthy and Falcone to test just how fast they could burn through all that built-in goodwill.
Unimaginatively filmed and of a misbegotten construction, Tammy goes all in with its namesake character (played by McCarthy), hanging the entire movie around a person who is immediately and irreversibly established as being thoughtless, unperceptive, destructive, and uneducated. (Two early gags that play on Tammy’s unfamiliarity with Mark Twain and Neil Armstrong aren’t funny enough to offset the audience takeaway – that Tammy is a flaming idiot.) I hesitate to argue that McCarthy and Falcone should’ve hung true to their initial vision of Tammy as a moronic boor who wrecks her car, loses her job, and watches her marriage go boom before the opening credits have barely unspooled, because that initial vision reaps very few rewards comedically. But the film’s shift away from flat buffoonery into a dramedy isn’t any more successful (even if Susan Sarandon, as Tammy’s alcoholic grandmother, is a treat), and in the transition its conception of Tammy becomes fatally confused.
At one point, Tammy – who’s never appeared at all troubled by her unkempt style and jokey T-shirts – has a makeover thrust on her. We all know why: Because this is a movie, and people in movies get makeovers. Especially in bad movies. And even when the filmmakers have carte blanche to be better, be different, aim higher. But foreknowledge doesn’t make the fact any less irritating.