I was worried that Tammy would be insufferable, but I had a pretty good time. The movie is thin and sloppy, but not nearly as much as I feared it would be. I laughed, not as often as others at the sneak preview, but enough. Most importantly, I enjoyed spending time with a number of the actors. The comedy is leavened by dramatic moments and just enough sweetness. The key members of the cast make it work.
There, have I qualified my appreciation enough?
The film is directed by Ben Falcone, husband of star Melissa McCarthy. In an interview with the Movie Fanatic website, McCarthy said the project started six years ago. "Ben came downstairs just having woken up, and literally said, 'I had a weird dream, and I think I have to write it. You go on a road trip with your grandmother, and she drinks and sleeps around. I'm going to go write that movie.'"
Falcone and McCarthy are credited as co-writers of the screenplay, which has a sketchy quality. That bothered me at times — I caught myself wondering whether the words I was hearing were the product of the script or improvisation. Still, the characters are intriguing.
Tammy (McCarthy) works at a fast food chain. On the way to work one day she runs into a deer. Despite the blood on her face from the accident, her boss (Falcone) fires her for looking disheveled and being tardy. Tammy reacts like a child: sputtering, batting at nearby objects and throwing ketchup packets. When she goes home she catches her husband (Nat Faxon) serving a home-cooked dinner to their next door neighbor (Toni Collette). After more sputtering and batting, she heads to her mother's place.
Things do not go well with Mom (Allison Janney), and Tammy reluctantly hits the road with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon). They don't get along either, but Grandma has cash, a car and the urge to travel. Despite being headed from Illinois to Niagara Falls, they end up in Louisville, where they have significant encounters with father and son Earl and Bobby (Gary Cole and Mark Duplass) and lovers Lenore (Kathy Bates) and Susanne (Sandra Oh).
The pairing of McCarthy and Sarandon pays off because McCarthy is in her element and Sarandon is Susan "Rocky Horror," "Thelma and Louise" and "Bull Durham" Sarandon. Oh those eyes, and how well she works them! McCarthy and indie-hero Duplass use the reserve of their characters to create a beguiling tentative relationship. Bates is a charming powerhouse who adds a lot to the last third of the film, though her sweetie Oh gets little to do besides looking supportive.
My favorite scene in the movie is a robbery of a hamburger joint that involves one thief and two victims. It succeeds because all three characters seem genuine. The comedy is funnier because it feels based in reality. Alas, too many scenes lack that verisimilitude. Tammy is at its best when the players are developed. When the characters are one note (the husband and the neighbor, Pearl's sorta boyfriend, Tammy's father) the film plays like bits from the dream Falcone jotted down.
Tammy isn't a comic masterwork, but enough of it worked to make me happy. And it's only 97 minutes! God bless short comedies!
Obvious Child ★★★★ (out of five) Writer-director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate team up to create a fine portrait of a twenty-something comedian dealing with life as a struggling performer in New York City. She does tough, funny monologues about her life and then goes out and lives. In the course of it all, she gets pregnant and has an abortion. The matter-of-fact way it is handled has made the film controversial. Do what you will with that, but don't miss the finely-drawn story of an interesting, talented person and a life that reflects many others. The bracing romantic-comedy is a stand-out.