Friday, July 4, 2014

The Disastrous Tammy: Melissa McCarthy Misfires.

Movie Review: Tammy

Director: Ben Falcone

Reviewed: 4 July 2014

jamesintexas rating--*

I squirmed in my theater seat as I watched the new film Tammy, thinking about many things. Other performances by the lead actress that I have enjoyed. Complete creative control run amok. Long stretches of silence in the theater. One of the most likable and charismatic actresses of our time playing a confusing character. A slew of Oscar-winning and Emmy-winning actresses as well as respected veterans make up the cast, looking uncomfortable and unsure of what type of film Tammy should be. And the heart of the film is the great Melissa McCarthy as Tammy, a wild misfire of a performance that careens from one scene to the next in a movie that seems as aimless as its characters. Since Tammy the film is ultimately unsure of what it wants to be, that makes caring about its characters difficult.

Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) has the ultimate bad day: in quick succession, she loses her transportation, her job, and her relationship. So, she packs her bag and travels to her mom's house, linking her up with her alcoholic grandma (Susan Sarandon) who is all too eager to loan Tammy her car for a chance to join in her escape. The pair head out on the road, vaguely, with the possible goal of visiting Niagara Falls. They stumble into small-town adventures, criminal activity, elaborate cover-ups, and family members eager to teach them life lessons.

It just does not work. Scenes are painfully long with many unfunny moments. For a road movie, I never got any sense of where they were and how far they had traveled. Intensely painful moments are mentioned (a childhood memory that haunts Tammy) and discarded quickly. Scenes that evoke isolation and exclusion are played for quick laughs. Tammy's mom, Deb (Allison Janney), is excluded from most of the film, never even mentioned by her mother or daughter on their journey. Tonal shifts abound, making it impossible to get a sense of these people's identities.

There are some scenes that make little sense like the one of Tammy dancing around to a pop song in the parking lot by herself. I was confused as to whether we are meant to think of Tammy as mentally ill or challenged in some way. Her centerpiece scenes seem to be a jet ski scene and a robbery scene because of their sheer physical comedy. But then in other scenes, she is lucid and insightful. But the film is not interested in exploring how Tammy became Tammy. The film seeks to have many emotional moments (characters confronting each other or having epiphanies), but it truly does not want to earn any of those moments. Things really ring false. Maybe others will find a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking Susan Sarandon funny, but I did not. Mark Duplass and Gary Cole are the sort of afterthought characters that are not given more than one note to play. Duplass in particular is given the unenviable task of laughing at Tammy's antics; he laughed more than anyone in my theater. I also did not know what to make of Kathy Bates' late appearance in the film. Her inspirational speech seems cliched and factually correct based on information given earlier in the film. The overall impression is a sloppy one.

I think one of the aspects that I have liked about Melissa McCarthy's performances in Bridesmaids and The Heat is that her characters, while deeply comedic, are always intelligent and confident. Here, when playing Tammy who is neither, McCarthy flails wildly, robbed of her usual quick wit and sharp comic timing. It is difficult not to blame McCarthy who wrote the screenplay along with her husband Ben Falcone, the director. I have to wonder if Tammy was meant to be something other than this. Perhaps studio interference altered with their original vision? What we are left with in Tammy is an unfunny film that had some incredible potential and a dream cast. The film does not seem to have the courage to regard its characters as real people, and that is a shame. McCarthy's track record demanded high expectations for this film, expectations that the film was not able to reach.

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