In the few years since Bridesmaids catapulted her to stardom with a surprising Best Supporting Actress nomination, Melissa McCarthy has made the absolute best of it. Always a funny and talented actress relegated to supporting roles, she's now having projects designed specifically for her and they've all been huge hits thus far. But Tammy is her first chance to indulge in a true passion project, one she's been developing for years with her co-writer and director husband, Ben Falcone. Essentially a road movie it gives McCarthy the chance to do pretty much the exact same thing she's been doing in exactly the same way, and it makes one wonder why this was such a big deal project for her in the first place.
Maybe a good place to start is the titular character, a lumbering tangled mess of sorrow and rage, like so much of what McCarthy has done before. Was there not even a hint of desire to do something....new? Different? Tammy is suffering one of those abysmal days that often launch this type of comedy of the spirit, one we know will end with insights and epiphanies galore. Having lost her terrible job at a fast food joint (Falcone plays her overbearing boss) because she was late after hitting a deer in the road and totaling the car, Tammy comes home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) having an affair with the neighbor (Toni Collette, given zero to do). Basically everything that can go wrong does can wrong, so trudging over to her parents' (Alison Janney and Dan Akroyd) home, which is like one door down and was probably meant to be a joke but isn't funny, Tammy just wants to get out of town. Fortunately, so does her boozing grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), and with a wad of cash and grandma's car they decide to hit the road for a journey both literal and emotional.
By this point Tammy has probably fallen flat on her face, crashed into something, or caused some sort of wreckage at least a dozen times until it becomes obvious this is the extent of the humor, and it grows tiresome very fast. Maybe it's the relative inexperience of Falcone as a director and the pair as writers but they do a terrible job of sketching out Tammy's world and the relationships she shares. What they do is portray Tammy as something of a half-wit who hasn't heard of Mark Twain and lacks any shred of social grace. She's mean, aggressive, and generally disagreeable to the point that it's hard to feel anything for her, and the script isn't crafted well enough to change our perception of Tammy no matter how hard it tries. So what we get is essentially lip service to a troubled upbringing, and some brief altercations with Pearl that hint at something deeper. But there's no commitment to any of it, in favor of getting to the next ridiculous set piece where McCarthy can pull whatever stunt she can think of. She's a funny lady but with only Sarandon to play off of you can sense McCarthy struggling to come up with something to do that might get a laugh. So we get numerous overlong and laugh-free scenes where McCarthy labors to kill time: one in which she sings nearly all of the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider", and another where she dances unprovoked to hip-hop because....well, that's never really made clear. It just kind of happens. That's probably the best way to sum up Tammy as a whole: it just kind of happens.
By the time a love interest is introduced (played by the utterly wasted Mark Duplass), it feels like an afterthought and considering his character's lack of personality it probably was. We're at a loss to figure out what Tammy's drive or motivation is meant to be, and any lessons learned only come when, you guessed it, after the slovenly Tammy gets a physical makeover. Even as she gets some hard words of wisdom from her lesbian aunt (Kathy Bates), it never really registers as meaningful because Tammy just goes on doing what she's been doing, which makes us wonder what this was about other than lazy and predictable slapstick. If you guessed there might be a stint in jail for Tammy at one point then you are a winner.
So what was the draw for McCarthy to do a movie like Tammy in the first place? Obviously there's an appeal to developing her own movie when Hollywood isn't always so forthcoming, but there's a real missed opportunity here for McCarthy to show what she's really capable of.