A film review by Craig J. Koban July 10, 2014



2014, R, 96 mins.


Melissa McCarthy as Tammy  /  Susan Sarandon as Pearl  /  Kathy Bates as Lenore  /  Allison Janney as Deb  /  Dan Aykroyd as Don  /  Gary Cole as Earl  /  Sandra Oh as Susan  /  Mark Duplass as Bobby  /  Toni Collette as Missi  /  Nat Faxon as Greg  /  Ben Falcone as Keith

Directed by Ben Falcone  /  Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy

TAMMY is an utter comedic dead zone.  You know you’re in trouble when a film opens with a would-be uproarious scene of a character trying to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on some fresh road kill that she just struck with her vehicle.  Hardy har.  

Worse yet is that the film – when it’s not pathetically attempting to elicit hearty laughter from viewers – tries to be a touching and poignant family drama commenting on the daily trials of chronic alcoholism, the toil of suffering through diabetes, and the despair of low self worth.  TAMMY is wholeheartedly wrongheaded and ill conceived and never once earns its laughs, nor its feeble attempts at tugging at our heartstrings.  In short, this film’s a total unmitigated mess. 

The film is a starring vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, who also co-wrote the film with its director, Ben Falcone (whom also happens to be her husband).  I can certainly appreciate what a labor of family love TAMMY must have been to both Falcone and McCarthy, not to mention that with McCarthy's newfound clout in the industry she can pretty much stake a claim to just about any screen comedy project she wishes these days.  I’ve personally found her performance resume to be spotty and inconsistent at best (I enjoyed last year’s THE HEAT, but loathed IDENTITY THIEF), but McCarthy is not a woman without talent or merit.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a film that fully utilizes her gifts, and TAMMY is just another example of the actress wallowing away playing the same corrosive mannered, harsh-talking and authority-defying persona that we’ve already seen her play before.  These characters are almost becoming a tired and worn out cliché in their own right. 



Ultimately, TAMMY gives us no real reason to even like its title character.  Where’s the fun to be had for viewers to spend 90 agonizing minutes with a woman so self-destructive, so selfish, so crass, and so inescapably unworthy of our investment?  When we first meet Tammy (McCarthy) she’s a pretty loathsome human being that has hit rock bottom.  Aside from totaling her junky Toyota hitting a deer on the way to work, she then gets quickly fired by her fast food restaurant boss (played by Falcone) for arriving late…and appearing in horrendous condition.  She expresses her anger by proceeding to lick all of the hamburgers that are about to go out to customers.  To further add emotional insult to injury, Tammy returns home that day to find her husband (Nat Faxon) having a romantic rendezvous with their neighbour (Toni Collette, a great actress that barely gets any screen time here).  

Realizing that her day could not get any worse, Tammy collects what meager belongings she has and proceeds to trek over to her mother’s (Allison Janney) home…who lives just a few doors down (the film’s only genuine laugh).  Tammy decides to take action and flee her small Illinois town and head for the tranquility of Niagara Falls…but with her chronic alcoholic and diabetic grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) in tow, and only because she has nearly $7000 cash to help fund Tammy’s escape from reality (and a Cadillac to make it happen).  Rather predictably, Tammy and Pearl go on a series of wacky misadventures that involves – at some points – flirting with men in a bar, attending an all-lesbian Fourth of July party, and, during one desperate moment, an armed robbery at a restaurant.  Pearl has also conveniently (as far as the script is concerned) left all of her diabetic meds at home, which just further adds fire to an already combustible situation. 

Okay, let’s start off with one of the film’s nagging and more obtrusive problems: Susan Sarandon is never once – not for a single solitary minute – convincingly cast as McCarthy’s grandma, let alone Janney’s mother.  McCarthy, by my quick Internet search, is 43, Janney is 54, and Sarandon is 67, making the suspension of disbelief regarding their on-screen relations all the more hard to swallow.  I will give Sarandon props, though, for fully investing herself in her rudimentarily drawn character, and she seems to have a ball as her booze guzzling and deeply hedonistic granny.  Alas, the screenplay never once makes the frequently hostile and problematic dynamic between grandmother and granddaughter compelling in the slightest.  Beyond that, there’s very little in the way of exploration into the mindsets of these downtrodden blue-collar fringe figures.  Instead, TAMMY serves up a series of pratfalls, gags, and TV sitcom-worthy shenanigans revolving around these pathetic people.  Yawn. 

At the risk of engaging in road movie puns, TAMMY’s tone is completely all over the map.  There are many sequences in the film that strive to make complete fools out of Tammy and Pearl and their escapades, but then for everyone of those scenes we get moments that try to be sobering and solemn about Pearl’s drinking woes, her debilitating diabetes, and Tammy’s inability to find self-confidence.  This creates a jarring disconnect in the film.  If anything, TAMMY would have greatly benefited from just taking a side and sticking with it, but the uneven comedy mixed with even more sanctimoniously phoney dramatic sentiment leaves a real sour taste in the mouth.  The fact the film goes completely out of its way to ask us – make that beg us – to forgive Tammy for all of her transgressions and foul ways because, gosh darn it, she’s just a softy deep down inside…is kind of insulting.  People like her in real life don’t experience a radical, life-altering and self-healing emotional change as quickly as she does.

The male characters in the film are also sort of shamefully rendered.  Gary Cole shows up in the story – in varying stages of inebriation – playing an old coot that catches Pearl’s eye and Mark Duplass appears as Cole’s frequently embarrassed son that, for reasons never once explained, slowly finds himself falling in love with Tammy (yup, sure, uh-huh).  By the time the film spirals towards an inevitable conclusion – during which time the main characters face many obstacles that impede their future happiness, but then overcome them – I was left feeling monumentally empty inside.  The character of Tammy is presented throughout as an offensive and wholly dislikeable hobgoblin of a woman.  She seems beyond redemption.  Yet, because she occupies that Melissa McCarthy character cliché of an outwardly atrocious person that just wants to be understood and loved on the inside, you just know that all will be okay in the end.  Sigh.  Some in the audience will grow to love Tammy.  I, more or less, just wanted to slap her repeatedly. 

The film’s only redeeming quality?  It was mercifully short at 96 minutes.  I’ll give it that. 

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