Notable for revving-up movies both good (Bridesmaids) and mediocre (Identity Thief) with her brash, no-holds-barred comic turns, here Melissa McCarthy gets her turn behind the wheel. First-time director and long-time husband Ben Falcone is understandably eager to show that she’s got more than raucous rants and slapstick under the bonnet.
So, this warm but terminally uneven road movie about a frustrated fast-food worker hitting the highway with her boozy granny sees a bratty but battered McCarthy going for pathos (she’s sacked, dumped, homeless, and stuns a deer, all in the first 10 minutes) as well as pratfalls.
The film exploits McCarthy’s engaging fearlessness – her USP – but also doesn’t stint on her trademark improv riffing (Tammy’s sacking is a whirlwind of licked burgers and ripe insults: “Chicken? It’s mostly dick and beak”). Her swaggering slapstick gets a run-out too, showcased in a wacky burger-bar robbery which charms even her victims.
Trouble is, there’s now a list of familiar Melissa Moves. Klutzy drunk partying? Goofy singing? Shameless passes? Comic violence? This movie ticks all those boxes repeatedly. Yet what separates Tammy from Identity Theft’s go-for-the-gag approach are its surprisingly dark themes. Small-town hopelessness, epic bad days, adultery, alcoholism, and pill abuse all rear their heads. It’s as if Falling Down got reworked as a sitcom.
Too bad then, that the flabby direction and episodic script (co-written by McCarthy and Falcone) can’t balance this bold mix of the merry and the melancholy. Instead we get shtick (jet-ski crashes, granny-sex) alternating with sentimentality. Meanwhile, a great, underused cast (including Alison Janney’s shrill mom and Mark Duplass’ bemused love interest) are left idling while McCarthy’s brassy energy powers the movie.
Yet Susan Sarandon’s hard-drinking, horny granny is a stone-cold scene-stealer, even in a grey nan-perm. Her sly, natural performance and McCarthy’s essential sweetness keep the comedy relatable, even when Tammy’s unwieldy combo of comedy and poignancy threatens to knock it flatter than roadkill.
Zig-zagging between being strident and heart-warming, Tammy loses its laughs in the gaps; even Melissa McCarthy’s exuberant comic capers can’t get this road-trip clunker out of first gear.