Tammy – Melissa McCarthy’s new comedy has a hidden heart of gold, but little else

While women have long been a presence in comedy films, it seems that only recently people have actually been recognising their efforts in the genre, both as actors and as filmmakers. Love it or hate it, you could argue that American comedy Bridesmaids (2011) started this. A comedy with a predominantly female cast and written by women (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo), it made it big at the box office and garnered huge critical acclaim, mostly from people who were almost surprised at the fact that (shock horror) women could do funny. Since then there seems to have been a slow, steady increase in the number of women being recognised as comedy filmmakers and in mainstream comedy roles. Films such as In A World… (2013), The Heat (2013) and Obvious Child (2014) are just a few examples of female-fronted comedies that are all either written by, directed or starring women and that all stand out among the more male-dominated comedies of recent years. More importantly though, the female roles in these films aren’t simply there just for comedic effect – these roles drive the plot of the film. One of the most bankable female comedy stars of the moment, Melissa McCarthy, has only ever been given a few of these sorts of lead comedy roles in her career, most recently in The Heat. Yet now McCarthy is behind the wheel of her own vehicle called Tammy (2014), another female-driven comedy that is also hoping to continue the trend and make it big in a market still saturated with male ‘Bromance’ films.

Tammy (2014) – Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) and her Grandmother (Susan Sarandon)

Few out there are as funny as Melissa McCarthy, male or female. Many could never match her aptitude for comedy or the boldness she brings to her roles. Again this shines through in Tammy, McCarthy expertly playing the outlandish, down-on-her-luck woman who loses her car, job and husband all in the space of a day. Fed up with her life Tammy packs her things and embarks on a spontaneous road trip with her bored Grandmother (Susan Sarandon), who insists on coming along for the ride as well. Soon the two of them are travelling across the country to get away from it all, Tammy hoping to make a fresh start while all the time trying to control her rowdy Grandmother. Sounds like the usual comedy road trip recipe, right?

Well those expecting that sort of film will be surprised by Tammy, either pleasantly or otherwise. Sure, the slapstick jokes still remain alongside the usual sort of big, crude jokes seen in many a mainstream comedy film. But many will be surprised to learn that Tammy is also a sweet, straight drama about one woman trying to get over the bumps in her life and find her way again. The result is a pleasing little indie comedy drama that makes a change from the usual comedic fare. However this is also one of the main problems with the film. No consistency in the tone means it’s an uneasy watch in which it sometimes feels the film doesn’t really know what it wants to be, or more accurately that director and co-writer Ben Falcone and co-writer McCarthy don’t really know what they want it to be.

Tammy meets Bobby (Mark Duplass) on the road...

Of course, that’s not to say that mixing big laughs and sentiment doesn’t work in comedy films. Indeed the aforementioned Bridesmaids and In A World… both had sentiment by the bucket-load. And if you watch any of Judd Apatow’s work you’re always hit with emotional, realistic moments as well as the laughter. Yet with Tammy the balance doesn’t work because it switches between the two so dramatically. The boisterous, funny side takes over with a silly slapstick joke and then immediately after throws us back into a touching, heartfelt moment, making these serious parts too unbelievable and hard to connect with. Of course this also hasn’t been helped by the film’s marketing campaign which tried to push it as the new Due Date (2010) or even The Hangover (2009). Still kudos to Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone for trying to mix the genres.

Praise should also be given for the fact that Tammy features a predominantly female cast, and a pretty damn fine one too. We get cameos from the brilliant Kathy Bates and the fabulous Sandra Oh. The amazing Allison Janney has a brief role as Tammy’s mother. And Susan Sarandon is superb as the Grandmother, if a strange choice when she has to wear so much make-up and prosthetics to age her. Her presence makes for a clever Thelma & Louise (1991) road trip nod, which I’m guessing was part of the reason for casting her. Sarandon and McCarthy, who spend most of their time together onscreen, make for a great and funny pair as well, the two brilliantly playing off one another in poignant and touching scenes. Indeed it is great to see McCarthy showing her untapped dramatic skills alongside her usual comedy attributes in a deserving lead role.

Yet for all its mould-breaking efforts within the comedy genre, Tammy just isn’t that compelling a watch. The story drags in parts and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for most of the running time. During one scene involving a robbery, Tammy seems to be announcing that it’s about to head somewhere new and exciting. But even that is an anti-climax – a statement that sums up the rest of the film really.

Tammy and her Grandma find themselves in trouble...

Unexpected in the extreme, some will be happy to realise that Tammy is much more than the usual mainstream comedy. Others, mostly those wanting to see that sort of film, will hate this. The mixture of laughs and drama might work in other comedies, but here McCarthy and Falcone just don’t get the balance right and more often than not Tammy feels confused and falls flat. Still there are few other filmmakers making such bold moves in comedy right now, especially in terms of using a predominately female cast. And seeing McCarthy stretch her dramatic muscles in a lead role that is something other than the crude characters we are used to seeing her play is a joy to behold. Yet it really is a huge shame to say that despite all of these positives, overall Tammy ends up being incredibly disappointing.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on November 25, 2014.

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