July 2, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Tammy”


TAMMY:  Not Even For Free – Melissa McCarthy Fumbles Her Industry Clout

When a star earns hundreds of millions of dollars for Hollywood, it can show its appreciation by handing over the creative reins to the star (on a modest budget), allowing him or her to realize a “passion project.”  That’s where Melissa McCarthy is, after Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Identity Thief took in over $450M just in the US, and the result is Tammy, which McCarthy (apart from starring in, of course) wrote and produced with her husband, Ben Falcone, who was also given the keys to make his directing debut on the project.

There are actors, sometimes unexpected ones, who turn out to be born writer/producers and even directors as well–George Clooney is an obvious example, and Ben Affleck, and of course the emperors of this multi-hyphenate group, Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen.  More often, though, the movies that emerge are soggy vanity projects, and that’s the case with Tammy, which is neither as funny nor as moving as McCarthy and Falcone had in mind.

This is McCarthy’s first time as the sole center of a movie–Bridesmaids was an ensemble piece, and she had strong co-stars in The Heat and Identity Thief–and without a real foil to work against, her schtick seems unrelenting.  It’s not that McCarthy wants to seem more glamorous or polished than she’s been before (far from it), but that she and Falcone don’t allow any of the other characters to be more than extensions of hers.  More importantly, McCarthy seems to have fundamentally misunderstood the source of a great deal of her appeal  She draws Tammy as a downtrodden, woebegone loser, when the reason people love to watch her is because even when her character turns out to have a sad backstory, as in Identity Thief, she’s an unlikely, populist winner.

We meet Tammy on The Worst Day Of Her Life.  In short order, she hits a deer with her car, turns up late to her fast-food job and is fired (her boss is played by Falcone), and comes home early to find that her husband (Nat Faxon) is having an affair with their neighbor (Toni Collette).  In a slapstick rage, she packs her bags and storms off to her mother’s house–down the block.

Tammy’s mother is played by Allison Janney, and her grandmother Pearl is Susan Sarandon, and here we reach one of the truly weird failings of Tammy, its nearly surreal casting.  Normally when actors are in the creative lead on a movie, the one aspect that you can count on is that the cast will be well-chosen, but Tammy feels as though McCarthy and Falcone decided to cast their friends regardless of whether they were right for their parts (or as if they put their Contacts list into a blender).  With Collette as the husband’s mistress, you’d expect the character to have some substance, but the actress is on screen for about 5 minutes and has nothing interesting to do.  The idea of a gene pool in which Sarandon would give birth to Janney, who would give birth to McCarthy, makes the head swim, and it’s all accentuated by the fact that Sarandon is only 24 years older than McCarthy, and so well-preserved that even with a gray wig applied to Sarandon’s head, you could barely see them as aunt and niece, let alone women two generations apart.

In any case, Tammy and Pearl soon hit the road together, since both want to get away and Pearl has a car and some money.  (Parallels to Sarandon’s iconic role in Thelma & Louise are obvious, although Tammy avoids overt homages.)  They’re supposedly headed to Niagara Falls, but immediately set off in the wrong direction, and go the wacky adventure route instead.  Pearl quickly hooks up with rancher Earl (Gary Cole), while Tammy has the kind of initially hostile encounter with Earl’s son Bobby (Mark Duplass) that are supposed to mean sparks are in the air.  Duplass, though, is so badly cast as a straight-arrow love interest that there’s no chemistry at all between him and McCarthy–they’re more like co-workers than potential romantic interests.  Through various contrivances, Pearl ends up in jail, and to raise her bail, Tammy robs a store in the fast-food chain where she used to work, which gives the movie its centerpiece comic sequence–i.e., it’s just about the only funny scene in the whole picture. (Even here, though, Falcone and McCarthy go to the well of this sequence too often, repeating aspects of it to diminishing returns.)

After that, sentimentality is applied with a thick brush.  Tammy and Pearl go to the idyllic lesbian enclave of Tammy’s aunt Lenore (Kathy Bates) and her lover Susanne (Sandra Oh), where family resentments are aired via a big July 4th party, and after hurt feelings are soothed, in the end everyone gets exactly what they deserve in virtual fairy-tale fashion, and Tammy becomes a Better Person.

Tammy‘s heart is in the right place, but that’s about the best that can be said about it.  Falcone doesn’t prove himself deft at any aspect of filmmaking, giving the movie a bland look (the cinematographer is TV vet Russ T. Alsobrook) and allowing the actors to mug for his camera (Kathy Bates, no-nonsense as usual, is the exception).  Because the characters and storyline are weak, the movie feels long even at 96 minutes.

It’s easy to root for Melissa McCarthy, who’s crossed some important pop culture lines by unashamedly playing her age and weight in leading roles.  It’s for that very reason that Tammy is disappointing.  McCarthy doesn’t seem to realize that what was empowering about her earlier performances was that a woman who looked like a normal human being and not a fashion icon (a fact taken for granted with male comic stars like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Will Ferrell) was acting from a position of strength.  We don’t need to see her become a better human being because we already believe she is one, and watching her play dumb and victimized feels like a step backwards.  It’s clear that she wants to be taken as a Serious Actress, and perhaps that will be in her grasp.  But the way to get there isn’t by neutering her screen persona.  In Tammy, she turns herself into a Melissa McCarthy doll.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."