There are plenty of Melissa McCarthy moments in “Tammy,” those profane, hilarious and seemingly off-the-cuff semi-monologues she has delivered in movies since she stole “Bridesmaids” in 2011.
And like her role in the star vehicles that followed – “The Heat” and “Identity Thief” – in Tammy she plays a character that seems on the verge of self-destruction, this time because she loses her car, her job and her husband in the same day.
“Tammy” is different from those previous films, though. It’s a road picture, it’s a buddy comedy and every once in a while, it’s a love story. It has expected belly laughs, and some unexpectedly poignant moments and the movie’s point … well its point is not altogether clear. The result is a sweet, often entertaining but occasionally uneven movie.
“Tammy” is the directorial debut of Ben Falcone, who until now is best known for playing the object of McCarthy’s mid-air lust in “Bridesmaids” and also for being her real-life husband. The couple co-wrote the screenplay and has been working on the film for years. Thanks to a little help from their friends – Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are among the film’s producers – and McCarthy’s power as a box office draw, it finally got done.
The plot goes like this: Tammy works at a fast-food place called Topper Jack’s and is in no danger of being named employee of the month. When she is late for work after hitting a deer on the interstate, her boss – Falcone – has had enough and fires her. She leaves, but not before hurling ketchup packets at him, licking much of the prepared food and informing the customers that the chicken they are eating is not real.
Tammy heads home to find her husband having a romantic dinner with their neighbor (Toni Collette in an almost non-speaking role). She runs home – two doors away – to mother (Allison Janney) who refuses to let her take her car so she moves to Plan B: She runs away with her grandmother, Pearl (a shockingly elderly looking Susan Sarandon) who has $6,700 in cash, a Cadillac and an unfulfilled childhood wish to see Niagara Falls.
Cue the road music.
Things do not start out well. The pair gets hammered on beer and whiskey while driving and wind up in a campground forest with the Caddy wedged between trees. After scratching the heck out of that, Tammy totals a personal watercraft at a nearby lake and Pearl has to shell out $4,800 to make good.
McCarthy and Sarandon have decent on-screen chemistry. Some of the better scenes have just the two of them talking about where it all went wrong for them. In addition to a checkered past that includes a fling with Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, Pearl also has a pretty serious drinking problem, which will become an issue later in the trip.
Tammy cannot claim to be just an innocent victim of circumstance. She confides that her husband is not the only family philanderer; Tammy cheated too, with the ice cream man.
“You didn’t do it for the free ice cream, did you?” Pearl asks.
Tammy’s answer: “Not at first.”
They end up at a bar in Louisville and Pearl ends up in a compromising position in the back seat of the Caddy with Earl (Gary Cole) while his son Bobby (Mark Duplass of “The Mindy Project”) and Tammy sit on the bumper.
Bobby and Tammy soon discover they have something in common besides older relatives in need of supervision; the only question is when those sparks will become a fire.
Then the movie gets weird. Grandma buys beer for a pair of teens, Tammy doesn’t like it, inadvertently chucks a beer can at a police car that has rolled up and the two of them wind up in jail. Tammy makes bail, but Grandma’s is much higher because the cops found some unprescribed painkillers on her. Tammy learns that Grandma has a host of health problems and all kinds of medicine she’s not taking, so she decides to rob a Topper Jack’s to get bail money. The plan works – sort of – and then Tammy and Grandma turn into Thelma and Louise and go on the lam, where they are harbored by a relative, Lenore (Kathy Bates), who is about to throw a “lesbian Fourth of July party.”
A scene with Bates in which she lectures McCarthy about life is one of the movie’s high points, a moment where the Oscar winner for “Misery” gets to remind the audience that she’s a great actor.
And by the way, so is McCarthy. There is an inclination to say that she is playing the same character in too many films, and there is no question that her role in “Tammy” is derivative of earlier roles: a loud, sloppy, screw-up living on the edge. But she is no one-dimensional actress; she has scenes in this film that foreshadow dramatic roles in her future.
If you follow the local news, you won’t be surprised to learn that Tammy and Pearl eventually make it to Niagara Falls. When five of the film’s actors and a crew were there last year at this time, shooting at the Cave of the Winds and the observation deck, McCarthy told reporters the setting provided “a really sweet ending for the movie.”
That it did.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney
Director: Ben Falcone
Running time: 96 minutes
Rating: R for language including sexual references.
The Lowdown: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.