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D: Ben Falcone / 97m

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Nat Faxon, Toni Collette, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Falcone

Tammy (McCarthy) is having a bad day: first her car is hit and totalled by a deer, then she’s fired from her job at Topper Jack’s for being late.  To make matters worse, when she gets home she finds her husband, Greg (Faxon) having a romantic meal with their neighbour, Missi (Collette).  With no car, no job, and her marriage over, Tammy does what she always does when things go wrong: she plans to leave town.  However, her mother (Janney) refuses to lend Tammy her car.  Enter Tammy’s grandmother, Pearl, who’ll let Tammy use her car, but under one condition: that she can come along for the ride.  Tammy has her misgivings but when Pearl says she can pay for the trip as well, Tammy agrees she can come along.

After a first night where they both end up drinking too much, Tammy wants to go home, but Pearl persuades her to stick with the trip, and they head for Niagara Falls.  On the way Tammy stops off to go jet skiing but she wrecks the jet ski and Pearl is forced to pay for it.  Next they go to Louisville where they visit a bar that serves the best barbecue around; there they meet Earl (Cole) and his son, Bobby (Duplass).  Pearl and Earl quickly hit it off – so much so that they end up having sex in the back of Pearl’s car – while Tammy and Bobby make a more restrained connection.

The next morning, Tammy discovers Pearl in a liquor store mixing whiskey in a Slurpee and trying to buy alcohol for some minors.  The police are called and both Tammy and Pearl are arrested.  Pearl pays for Tammy’s bail, but doesn’t have enough for herself.  Tammy robs a local Topper Jack’s to get her released but she’s beaten to it by Earl.  The robbery makes the news, and Pearl persuades Tammy to return the money.  From there they travel to meet Pearl’s old friend Lenore (Bates) and her partner Susanne (Oh) and be a part of their annual Fourth of July party.  Earl and Bobby turn up as well, and although Tammy and Bobby’s relationship deepens, Pearl’s drunken behaviour on the night causes a rift between grandmother and granddaughter that leads Tammy to rethink her life and what she wants from it.

Tammy - scene

Co-written by McCarthy with her husband (and director) Falcone, Tammy is ostensibly a comedy, but by the movie’s end it’s morphed into a somewhat sombre drama that abandons laughs in order to get across its message: that you can be whoever you want to be as long as put in the effort.  This shift in tone does two things: it adds some much needed depth to proceedings, and makes the viewer wonder how much better the movie could have been, played as a straight drama.  For this is the strange problem with Tammy: the more serious aspects are handled far more effectively than the comedic ones.

Part of the problem here is that, thanks to The Heat (2013) and Identity Thief (2013), McCarthy’s particular brand of comedy is fast becoming “old hat”, with her childish prolonging of bad behaviour and infantile arguments having lost their ability to amuse already.  It’s not so much that McCarthy is a one-trick pony, more that she plays the same character in each movie and with little variation.  But here, thanks to the way in which the script has been developed, McCarthy shows how adept she can be when giving a more balanced performance (perhaps it’s because she’s acting alongside the estimable Susan Sarandon; she certainly ups her game in their scenes together).

With the storyline proving more and more lacklustre as matters progress, and with Tammy herself made more considerate and less “dumb” as she interacts with Bobby and Lenore, the humour fades in service to the demands of an increasingly serious chain of events.  It’s almost as if McCarthy and Falcone ran out of funny ideas and decided to make more of an issue of Pearl’s alcoholism, while at the same time bringing Tammy up short and make her more responsible.  It’s like watching a character being made to grow up at the same time as the movie she’s in.

So, are the opening scenes funny?  Absolutely, but at the expense of Tammy’s likeability, and while the script wisely allows her to leave behind her childish attitude, it’s clear that her behaviour is so closely tied to the movie’s humorous set pieces that without them it struggles to reassert its identity.  Sarandon acts like she’s taking some time out from acting more sensibly and with greater purpose, while supporting turns from Janney, Cole, Collette and Aykroyd are little better than cameos.  Bates is fun to watch as a lesbian with a fetish for blowing things up, and Duplass brings his indie sensibility to a role that is largely there to help Tammy regain her self-esteem (as if she can’t do it for herself).

Falcone directs with confidence even if he doesn’t quite have an entirely sure hand on the material, and gives his cast the room to spark off each other.  It leads to mixed results throughout, and some scenes are less effective than others, particularly those where Tammy’s challenging of authority is more a scripted necessity than a clearly defined character trait.  But as noted before, the sobering final half hour – in a weird way – rescues the movie and the director is on firmer ground.  And there’s one last comedic flourish courtesy of a clutch of outtakes, and the revealing of McCarthy’s “secret” – now that’s funny.

Rating: 5/10 – disappointing in its approach and execution but still largely watchable, Tammy provides evidence that McCarthy needs to find herself a serious role to play, and soon; not as warm-hearted as it would like to be, and short on belly laughs, the movie gets by on McCarthy’s easy-going charm and Sarandon’s devil-may-care approach to the material.