2014, 96mins, 15
Director: Ben Falcone
Writer (s): Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone
Cast includes: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Dan Aykroyd
UK Release Date: 4th July 2014
After exploding with 2011’s “Bridesmaids” and bagging herself an Oscar nod for the trouble, Melissa McCarthy has become an unlikely superstar. This specious reality peaked last year with the uninspired but lucrative pairing of “Identity Thief” and “The Heat”, the films managing a combined $400 million total worldwide. That’s not chump change, and Hollywood has seen fit to reward the comedienne by distributing her passion project, “Tammy”. Directed by husband Ben Falcone, with a script written by McCarthy and her aforementioned spouse, “Tammy” promises much and delivers staggeringly little. McCarthy’s standing in Hollywood is evidenced by the impressive cast surrounding her, but unfortunately “Tammy” is a frighteningly crass and ferociously lame road-trip flick. The film’s characters and plot trajectory take an offensively formless shape, strung out over a stone-faced and often depressing 96 minutes. It’s like watching actors improvise around the first-draft of an impossibly naff pitch.
After being fired and uncovering her husband’s infidelity on the same day, Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) decides to leave her hometown, accompanied by alcoholic grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon). Tammy is insistent that uncontrollable circumstances are responsible for her troubled predicament, but as she and Pearl blaze an aimless trail across the American Midwest and encounter an assortment of strangers, she begins to suspect her misfortune might have roots in her own immature choices.
McCarthy’s performance is a microwaved variant of her usual shtick. The actress has an offbeat wild side that can be of use to a disciplined director, but when left to her own devices she hasn’t the precision or comedic diversity to keep momentum going. I wasn’t inured with either “The Heat” or “Identity Thief”, but each of those films gifted the actress an accomplished foil to work alongside, somebody willing to try and temper her motorcade of high-pitched vulgarity. In “Tammy” Falcone lets her hit every screechy, manic beat she desires, and nobody in the cast has a large enough opportunity to derail the nonsense. Sarandon is the highlight, but her elderly lush is too restrained to halt McCarthy, the film using her only as a melodramatic punching bag or obvious walking gag. Even brasher presences like Kathy Bates (on autopilot) and Dan Aykroyd fail to clamber high enough to upend McCarthy’s indulgent Sermon on the Mount. I’m not for a moment suggesting that McCarthy can’t be a source of some cinematic joy, but when left to improvise and clumsily fumble around a picture without rebuke, she comes over as a painfully selfish clown.
The screenwriting is very flat, and the jokes are devoid of finesse or polish. Every other line feels like a ramshackle improvisation, and the larger, structured set-pieces play with zero invention. The marketing has leant heavily on an interlude in which McCarthy’s bullish lead robs a burger joint, bursting out of her vehicle with the slobby machismo of a Rogen or McBride; Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” pouring out of the speakers with the vigour of an additional character. As a quick sight gag this might have achieved a passing grade, but Falcone displays it as the crown jewel in his collection of comedic duffers, the sight of his wife snatching at her invisible lady-balls the funniest material he seemingly dreamt up. The sequence (which devolves into a bad SNL skit from the 90s) is indicative of how lazy the film’s sense of humour is; Tammy” highlighting the mould that has begun to envelop McCarthy’s routine only three short years after its inception.
Road-trip pictures are never the most traditionally mapped storylines, but good examples of the genre (I recently rediscovered “Dumb & Dumber” with pleasing results) have a fluidity and sense of purpose that boils to the surface with reassuring regularity. “Tammy” lacks this. The picture gets off to a boisterous start, evading all but the most basic of character work, leaving audiences with no point of emotional connection for the spiralling labyrinth of nothingness that follows. “Tammy” doesn’t actually go anywhere, there are a handful of subplots and thematic undercurrents it wields irresponsibly, but its central duo don’t change naturally or with much consideration for continuity. Crucially the film also fails to state a destination, which frustratingly allows McCarthy to burp her away across the continent unchecked. A film- maker with an agenda might use this aesthetic shapelessness in an interesting or provocative way, but in “Tammy” any instruction it brings upon character is jettisoned for tension free escapades involving jet skis and lesbian 4th of July soirées. Even if the film was funny, it’d still be a total mess.
With its gaudy celebration of working class Midwestern culture, femininity and her own brand of gregarious slapstick, it’s not hard to see why “Tammy” is so dear to McCarthy. It’s a shockingly inept feature film, but conceptually it does boast a tangible personality; big, loud and proud of its heritage. Director Ben Falcone struggles to eek the minimal story into anything resembling a competent character study, but he does let the scenery and featured culture breathe satisfactorily, soaking in the ambience of garishly lit BBQ houses, flat rural pastures and sizable personalities. Imagine “Winter’s Bone” with fewer severed limbs and a warmer photographic texture. Falcone and McCarthy steep “Tammy” in the affectionately drawn and authentically sculpted flavours of home. The look of the film and the style of character it seeks to investigate aren’t the sort you usually expect to see headlining a summer comedy, so it’s nice that “Tammy” diverts from formula, at least on superficial grounds. Much has been made that with her unconventionally course screen presence and considerable heft, McCarthy is an unusual deviation from the female norms upheld by Hollywood. “Tammy” certainly sees the comedienne continuing to embrace what sets her apart, so if that’s your bag, I guess there’s a silver-lining after all.
The worst film of last year – “Grown Ups 2” – began with a benign episode involving a CGI deer. So too does “Tammy”. I wouldn’t lump McCarthy’s nadir with the worst of Sandler quite yet, but with its DOA jokes, lazy composition and cloying grasp of catharsis, “Tammy” runs the same shoddy gauntlet. “Tammy” exists to show us not all passion projects are worth pursuing and despite undeniable potential; somebody has to keep Melissa on a creative leash in the future.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014