If your impression of Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy is based primarily upon the scene from the trailers in which she robs a fast-food joint, you’ve probably got the wrong idea about the movie. McCarthy has already made one road trip movie in which she played a wacked-out, slightly-deranged goofball with her foot on the scatalogical throttle. It was called Identity Thief, and it wasn’t very good.
Tammy is not that great, either, but it at least represents a shift in McCarthy’s intentions. The trailer — and the film’s opening sequences — draw us in with typical McCarthy shtick — she gets knocked down by a deer she runs over in her car; she blows up at her fast-food manager (husband and director Ben Falcone) for firing her; and she throws an amusing hissy fit when she finds out her husband (Nat Faxon) is cheating on her with a neighbor (Toni Collette) — but after that, she decides to skip town and go on a road trip to Niagara Falls with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon). That’s when Tammy takes a weird turn toward the dramatic.
Granted, there’s still a few moments sprinkled throughout of full-on McCarthy, but there’s also a formulaic rom-com subplot involving a character played by Mark Duplass, and a throughline that concerns her grandmother’s alcohol and pill addiction and Tammy’s own self-destructive behavior.
For the most part, Tammy is a mediocre, though amiable movie, although there are a few moments when it gets downright heavy (for instance, when her grandmother goes on a drunken tirade and insults Tammy’s weight). It’s really a mish-mash of genres, and it doesn’t really work in any of them. Yet, it’s not an unpleasant movie to watch. It’s just a confused movie, an indie feature with indie actors that’s constantly being disturbed by a blockbuster actress and broad-comedy elements. The good parts in Tammy are given short shrift, while the wackier scenes play for far too long.
As you’d expect, Susan Sarandon carries the film, though she’s terribly miscast as the grandmother (she’s 67 but she’s more luminous than anyone else in the film, while McCarthy is 44 and Allison Janney, who plays the mother, is 54). There are a lot of small roles for actors that deserve more, like Janney, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, and Kathy Bates, and their performances, even with limited screen time, tower over that of McCarthy, who doesn’t really have the dramatic chops for a more serious movie yet.
On the other hand, it’s nice to see a big, 4th of July opener attempt to tackle more substantive issues, even if it ultimately fails. There’s a decent moment or two in Tammy and even a few funny ones, but they don’t add up too much in the end. McCarthy is much better in smaller, scene-stealing roles, and it’s hard not to wish that the roles in Tammy weren’t reversed: That it were a smaller movie about Sarandon’s addiction problems and the cousin’s (Kathy Bates) lesbian relationship with a younger woman (Sandra Oh). Unfortunately, that movie doesn’t get a 4th of July opening; it goes straight to VOD, which is where Tammy really belongs.