In “Tammy”, Melissa McCarthy plays a real train wreck. In the first few minutes, she crashes into a deer, gets fired from her fast food job, and finds out that her husband is cheating on her. Eventually, she embarks on a tumultuous road trip through the Midwest with her alcoholic freewheeling grandmother (Susan Sarandon) which ultimately leads to a clumsy bank heist and other misadventures. The laughs are mostly uninspired, but with “Tammy” context is everything.
Directed by the actress’ husband Ben Falcone from a script co-written by the couple, the film features a prominent, non-traditional woman defying the restrictions of a sexist industry. At his best, McCarthy is an unruly burlesque figure at odds with the world around him. It reflects the battle that an actress of her size faces to make a mainstream film like this. Its very existence is a triumph, but “Tammy” offers just enough wacky wit to make you wish it was much better.
Unsurprisingly, the film succeeds whenever it steps away from the shaky plot to let McCarthy transcend his limits. The material doesn’t match her strengths as an actress, but it plays with them, allowing her to embrace the role of a largely unfriendly character. Tammy’s lawless energy and insane self-confidence, like Danny McBride’s equally pathetic selfishness in HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” works because she doesn’t see those qualities in herself.
But in “Tammy,” it’s not just the actress’ demeanor or physique that makes her stand out. The film is a fair attempt to bring a Central American antihero devoid of class privilege to the fore. Whenever he puts forward this feat, he hints at a smarter movie. Even when he falters, “Tammy” points in a promising direction for a genre that rarely reaches its potential in mainstream audiences. If nothing else, it’s a conduit to better options.
The ultimate outsider
A first image of Tammy after a car crash, covered in grease and blood as she sped her smoldering wreck down the road, suggests a sort of gnarled comic poetry that bland dialogue can’t touch. Later, when Tammy goes gangster mode in a second act, wearing a makeshift mask and prancing while doing thug gestures set to “Thrift Shop,” the tale gives way to a hilarious musical riff of frustrations. of the lower class.
When was the last time a star-directed comedy went to such extremes? Jody Hill’s rowdy “Observe and Report” may have given us a mentally deranged mall cop who lives with his mother, but at least he has a sense of duty. In “Tammy”, the imprudence of the character has no immediate outlet.
McCarthy and Falcone’s script is less satisfying when it sketches Tammy’s apparent lack of education (pronouncing “Mark Twain” as “Mark Twan”, misreading the meaning of the word “model”), while her uneven relationship with her Alcoholic grandmother leads to a series of dead ends, as does her eventual romance with a sweet man she meets on the road (Mark Duplass).
But there’s just enough subtext here to hint at a sad, compassionate portrayal of alienation and angst that wouldn’t seem quite out of place in an Alexander Payne movie. (In fact, its premise of an intergenerational road trip isn’t that far removed from the base storyline of “Nebraska.”) However, despite its good-natured aspects, “Tammy” constantly struggles with its sophomoric ingredients. It’s a broad, silly comedy, no matter how hard it resists that outcome.
As McCarthy’s lead role challenges American male-dominated comedy, “Tammy” becomes a mediocre reworking of a cliché. He tries to shake up a genre that leans towards the formula. (See: “Neighbors,” yet another pretty funny movie from Seth Rogen that’s little more than a safe bet.) But, as usual, there are still several steps behind the most inventive comedies made outside. of the system.
Where is the vulgar pleasure?
To her credit, “Tammy” manages to transcend the youthful discussions around the “fat humor” that the McCarthy celebrity sadly provoked into the national conversation. The f-word only appears once, unleashed by Sarandon in drunken rage and mixed with a host of other simple insults. But while “Tammy” is too smart to laugh at her leading lady’s height, humor never finds a good form of expression.
Yet in “Premature,” another sweet comedy with a vulgar side opening in far fewer theaters this week, a confused nerdy teenager (John Karna) ejaculates no less than seven times during the wacky plot, which uses this series of sexual misfires as the main device: every time the guy blows his load, his day starts again. But writer-director Dan Beers’ “‘Groundhog Day’-meets-‘American Pie'” premise is surprisingly well-written and sympathizes with its dumb protagonist, not only because of his weird timing issue, but also because he is. a good kid who is afraid to graduate from high school and move on with his life.
Beers strikes a balance between shy, modest comedy and genuine pathos, while “Tammy” only hints at dirtier possibilities. Although leaning forward in places, he never does anything unique with the material.
Self-mockery makes the difference
David Wain’s “They Came Together”, which is out now theatrically and on VOD, would never be made as a studio comedy as it tears the genre conventions apart into threads. Wain’s searing criticism of the romantic comedy formula revolves around a seemingly happy couple (Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) telling their cute origin story with a recurring self-awareness that manages to indulge in her gentle posture while parodying her clichés. From the moment Poehler describes Rudd as “handsome, but in a non-threatening way” and calls her “the cutesy, goofy girl who will drive you a little crazy sometimes”, Wain makes it clear that he knows the content too well its reticle.
READ MORE: David Wain’s ‘They Came Together’, starring Amy Poehler & Paul Rudd, is a hilarious hit on Romcoms
“They Came Together” only gets smarter from there, casting awkward plots and absurd tangents that suggest “The Princess Bride” through the Zucker Brothers. In one of the most outrageous sequences, as a romantic song plays on the soundtrack, Wain cuts to show the singer in the studio and the out-of-character actors visiting, while a title card us indicates its possible availability on iTunes and other platforms. It’s a delightful blow to the commercialization of storytelling which still retains a soft and playful dimension. Wain manages to satire material already done to death without becoming preachy.
Despite her wacky character, “Tammy” never pushes material to the same outrageous heights as her lead. The light finish recedes from Tammy’s ostracized existence. She gets her happy ending, but it looks like a cheat.
No more non-traditional antiheroes, please
While Seth Rogen and company have not lost their humor, their recurring dominance in American comedy is starting to look stale. “Tammy” registers as a welcome response. The antics of white guys can only inject new energy into the genre. But much of the task has fallen on television, where “Orange is the New Black” offers audiences a wide range of ethnicities and inglorious issues in dark comedy packaging.
Of course, “Orange is the New Black” was a calculated risk by a company venturing into new programming ground, as studios have less room for experimentation. “Tammy” is as close as they’ve come to putting a non-traditional protagonist into mainstream comedy format, but smarter attempts are taking place outside of that arena.
In “Obvious Child”, Jenny Slate plays a standing actress who ruins her relationship with her monologues on stage and ends up having an abortion without feeling overwhelmed by guilt. The character casually unleashes scatalogical humor and sexual jokes even when she’s off the stage. Freed from the constraints of a rigid studio comedy, “Obvious Child” is fearless without exaggerating its progressive nature. More than an alternative to “Tammy,” it provides a better illustration of the flippant humor McCarthy implicitly seeks.
But “Obvious Child” has nothing to do with Justin Simien’s insanely fun satire “Dear White People,” which is released in October. Set on an upscale college campus, the writer-director’s endearing debut manages to play with conflicting notions of racial identity in the Obama era. The title refers to the informative radio show hosted by its main character (Tessa Thompson), a fiery young black woman eager to attack racial stereotypes even though she indulges in some of her own.
The film confronts its otherness in the market head-on, especially when the character of Thompson is told by her white lover that she should “hold up your audience a mirror rather than drop cannonballs on their heads.” . It’s a plea that “Tammy” could have taken to heart: He comes close to shaking his audience to experience a new kind of movie heroine, but ultimately retreats into the same old routine. .