Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Review: Tammy

Tammy
Directed by: Ben Falcone.
Written by: Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy (Tammy), Susan Sarandon (Pearl), Kathy Bates (Lenore), Allison Janney (Deb), Dan Aykroyd (Don), Mark Duplass (Bobby), Gary Cole (Earl), Nat Faxon (Greg), Toni Collette (Missi), Sandra Oh (Susanne), Ben Falcone (Keith Morgan), Sarah Baker (Becky), Rich Williams (Larry).

I wonder if Melissa McCarthy knows just how talented she is. She became a huge star with Bridesmaids – playing a bold and brash character, and since then her film work has pretty much been more of the same in films like Identity Thief and The Heat – and even in some of her smaller roles in This is 40 and The Hangover Part III for example. She can be great in these movies – all of them have at the very least have a scene or two which are great, and show off that side of her talent. But she has far more range than she has been given credit for – as her ever sweet role in Gilmore Girls proved, as did her brilliant triple performance in the (less than brilliant), little seen movie The Nines (2007). I wonder because Tammy is a film that McCarthy co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone – who also directed – and yet for much of the running time, it once again has McCarthy go over the top and larger than life. The last act tries to rein that in a little bit, and show a softer, more complicated side of McCarthy, but the movie doesn’t pull it off. It almost reminded me of an Alexander Payne – not just because the movie takes place in Middle America like his films do, but because I think the basic strategy of the movie strikes me as something Payne would do – which is to start with stereotypical, middle American characters where it almost seems like Payne is mocking his characters, but slowly but surely he gets to the more complicated truth of its characters. I think that is basically what McCarthy and Falcone are attempting with Tammy – they just don’t come close to pulling it off. Payne makes something that is very hard look effortless – which this film proves.

In the film, McCarthy stars as Tammy, a woman approaching middle age who still works in a fast food restaurant for an asshole boss (Falcone). She gets fired from that job, and comes home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) is cheating on her with their neighbor (Toni Collette). She goes across the street to her parents, and once to take off on a trip – to get away from the small town she has spent her whole life in. Her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) thinks this sounds like a great idea – and decides to go with her – which Tammy doesn’t like, but what the hell, Pearl is willing to bankroll the trip. So the pair set off, and learn a lot about each other they didn’t know, and grow a little closer – even if the older one is an alcoholic. That almost sounds like Payne’s Nebraska, with a gender reversal, doesn’t it?

McCarthy is so talented that she is sometimes able to overcome weak material and just make the audience laugh simply by her willingness to go farther than most other actress would. Not everything she does in Tammy works – hell most of it doesn’t – but it comes closer to working because even when Tammy seems like little more than obnoxious jerk, McCarthy makes her somehow likable. Susan Sarandon, who at this stage of her career it seems like Hollywood has no idea what to do with, is fine as Tammy’s grandmother as well – although the screenplay pretty much crosses over into drunk, horny “old lady” clich├ęs early, and stays there. Like McCarthy, Sarandon is talented enough to make this work better than it should. The film has assembled a talented supporting cast as well – Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Allison Janney and Mark Duplass – who is there as a love interest, because apparently you cannot make a movie without a love interest – and again they elevate some fairly lackluster material.

But no matter how good the cast is, they can only do so much to help material which lacks any real complexity, and direction which is rather lazy. I mentioned Alexander Payne earlier in the review, and the reason I did, is because Payne does this material with subtlety, smarts and humor. True, it’s a different kind of humor than McCarthy is going for in Tammy, but its humor just the say. In a Payne film, the transition for stereotypical characters to complex is gradual, and you don’t notice it – they sneak up on you. In Tammy, the transition happens nearly instantaneously from over the top comedic to something that yearns for more depth. It doesn’t really work.

I’m not sure if Hollywood really knows what to do with McCarthy – she is so talented, but since her breakout in Bridesmaids, they haven’t really given her anything complex to do. The sad thing about tammy – other than the fact that the movie doesn’t really work – is that I’m sure that McCarthy really knows what to do with herself either. She is too talented for a movie like Tammy – and the film feels like a wasted opportunity.

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