Melissa McCarthy’s first project as producer, writer, and star will most likely flop, but it’s not the abysmal failure than its curiously quiet dumping over the Fourth of July holiday in the States would suggest. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a particularly good movie, but it’s just not a spectacularly horrendous one either. Tammy is just misconceived: tonally inconsistent when it means to be tone-shifting and pitched too low key to work as a broad slapstick comedy, while also filled with too many big goofy gags to be as real and affecting as intended. It’s all over the map.
The movie is filled with the mistakes of first time filmmakers, and this is very much a debut for McCarthy as producer/co-writer and her husband as co-writer/director Ben Falcone. The trouble is that they made their first film after McCarthy became a star, so those mistakes will be screened to disappointed audiences on a wide international release rather than slipped out to a handful of festival goers and VOD surfers. This should have been a project that they made independently and released on a small level. If it had been seen that way, people might even have noticed that McCarthy and Falcone show promise as a filmmaking team. They just haven’t delivered a polished production that a wide release suggests.
McCarthy obviously stars as the titular Tammy, and she initially appears to be the big, brash, and foul-mouthed character that the actress has played since Bridemaids. She opens the film by being fired from her fast food job before returning home to discover that her husband is having an affair (plus, she destroys her car in-between). It’s a low point and one that Tammy intends to overcome by hitting the road and running away. Her mother (Alison Janney) has clearly heard this story before and pleads with Tammy not to go. But Tammy’s grandma (Susan Sarandon) has cash, a car, and a case of beer, so they hit the road. A series of drunken shenanigans and bad decisions play out in a road comedy that eventually leads to the pair finding love interests in the father/son team of Gary Cole and Mark Duplass, engaging in a polite fast food robbery, and eventually arriving at a climax at an all lesbian fourth of July party run by Kathy Bates (who also enjoys blowing stuff up real good).
There are a handful of funny moments. There’s something undeniably refreshing about the way McCarthy consistently presents a confident, sexual, and lovable lady who is far from the Hollywood’s impossible standard of beauty, and her comedic generosity extends to Sarandon’s horny Granny. Size and age might be used for laughs, but never in a sneering or judgmental way. It’s ultimately a very positive portrayal of a swath of female outsiders rarely seen in Hollywood movies played by a collection of extremely talented actors fully committed to the cause.
Where things get tricky is in the tone. McCarthy and Falcone start their movie big and silly with characters and performances to match. Then about half way through they attempt to dig into their characters and expand them into three dimensional people who can experience teary eyed drama. That transition never works. The world, humor, and personalities are too big to ever be toned down, and it’s hard to take the characters as seriously as intended following slapstick sequences involving jet ski crashing and paper bag robbery masks.
It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong. Perhaps the film was developed as a small and quirky indie, but then it got picked up by a major studio following McCarthy’s sudden success and was irrevocably altered through many script punch-up meetings in a desperate attempt to turn it into another raunchy comedy. Or maybe McCarthy and Falcone were attempting to make the type of movie that they just don’t have the experience or skill to pull off yet.
The film that Tammy most resembles in an odd way is Stuart Saves His Family, another big studio comedy that starts out by playing family dysfunction for broad laughs before transitioning into a quiet and genuinely affecting portrait of a broken family. That movie was a notorious bomb at the box office, but it pulled of the tonal shift Falcone and McCarthy are looking for. Tammy doesn’t live up to its ambitions, but it will likely make a small stack of money based on McCarthy’s star value alone. Hopefully Falcone and McCarthy aren’t dissuaded from working as a writing/directing team again. In isolated sequences, the comedy and drama in Tammy works, it just never fits together comfortably as a whole. With a little experience under their belts now, McCarthy and Falcone just might it get right next time and deliver the silly, yet tragic dramedy about disenfranchised characters that they hoped Tammy would be.