Monday, July 7, 2014
Dir. Ben Falcone
2.5 out of 5
When Melissa McCarthy falls down three times in the first eight minutes of Tammy, I want to believe it's a strategy designed to divert us from the darkness of her titular character losing her dead-end job and her unfaithful husband - essentially, her entire life - in that same timespan. Otherwise, it's simply a harbinger for the disappointing use of creative capital that defines this passion project co-scripted by McCarthy and her husband (and director) Ben Falcone. Trapped between broad, obvious comedy and bitterly funny family melodrama, Tammy feels like an attempt at an edgy character study that was somehow transformed into the story of an alien beamed down from the planet White Trash with a mission to mildly annoy more genteel folk.
Tammy (McCarthy) is a rude, selfish, shrill, and impulsive ex-fast food employee whose response to intense personal crisis is to stomp two doors down to her mother's (Allison Janney) house and demand a getaway vehicle. When mom demurs, Tammy instead hits the road with her brassy grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), another black sheep who's got a car, some cash, and an desire for one more adventure - to see Niagara Falls like her father once promised. That doesn't happen, of course, as the two women quickly attempt to one-up each other in an impromptu contest of poor decision making.
Tammy isn't the first film to present the road trip as a method of devolution, but it might be the most proudly formulaic. It's a movie full of Pavlovian emotional simplicity that's all the more frustrating for the more complex paths that Falcone and McCarthy decline to pursue. (I would love to see this premise get the Big Fan/Zero Charisma "sour loner" treatment as an indie film.) It's an issue that tied up in McCarthy's almost Ferrell-ian ability to inspire solidarity with her self-delusions, gaining our trust just as she veers into jokes with tepid, over-determined punchlines. It's not enough for Tammy to rob a restaurant in a silly getup of Crocs, a novelty t-shirt, and a greasy paper bag on her head; we have to watch a slow pan of her entire ridiculous ensemble set to a hip-hop song before the encounter becomes a mannered discussion about pies and hot tubs.
Still, plausibility is not the problem with Tammy - Falcone wisely resists piling on the wackiness, and McCarthy's far less indulgent in this type of role than just about any other comedic star. The failure to establish a clear identity sinks the movie. It tries to float along on the genial lack of decorum that defines McCarthy's onscreen persona without explaining what makes it consequential. Don't get me wrong, it's satisfying to see her get back up whenever she's knocked down. I just wish we cared more about why she was falling in the first place.