For over 50 years, Steve Crum has written reviews and features for newspapers, magazines and websites, and appeared on radio and TV shows regarding entertainment media. In addition to his years of service on the Governing Board of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, his Crum on Film weekly column was awarded 1st Place in Kansas and Missouri newspapers via Kansas City Press Club/Heart of America journalism awards. Nearly 2,000 of his film reviews have been posted on Rotten Tomatoes.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
‘Tammy,’ tell me true, why couldn’t you have been funnier?
By Steve Crum
Melissa McCarthy is a funny lady. That is, she can be. As the title character in Tammy, however, she has some funny moments, but that is about it. Those moments are sporadic and way overplayed. Here is a failed comedy suffering from SNL-itis. That is a Saturday Night Live sketch that drones on past its punchline, not knowing when to conclude. Sure there are some potentially choice comedy nuggets in Tammy, but they are obliterated by amateurish writing and editing.
On the up side, Tammy has an impressive cast that includes Susan Sarandon in an untypical comedic role, and Kathy Bates, who similarly lowered her acting chops to play Adam Sandler’s swamp mom in The Waterboy. On the down side, both actresses made a poor choice by appearing in a no-brainer like Tammy.
McCarthy and her director-husband, Ben Falcone, have co-written and produced a comedy typical of the barrage of witless comedies hitting movie screens over the past two decades. The comedy of Melissa McCarthy has already defined itself in the handful of films she has made since 2011. She was vulgar and raucously funny in Bridesmaids, and raucous and vulgar in The Heat and Identity Theft. Her Tammy character is raucous as well, but this time more so pitiful. Tammycapitalizes on McCarthy’s forté of fall-down, slam-into humor. What continues to amaze is how she accomplishes this kind of physical schtick while being so overweight. Of course, therein lies the big laugh. It worked for silent film great Fatty Arbuckle, whose comedy thrived on pratfalls, and he was even named “Fatty.”
The first half of Tammy is spent proving how idiotic a loser she truly is. After a confrontation with a deer, being fired at her fast food workplace, and discovering her husband having an affair with another woman, Tammy angrily packs up and heads to Niagara Falls on a road trip with her alcoholic, sexually charged Grandma Pearl (Sarandon). Tammy displays her anger in a rebellious way, more like a child running away from home. She obviously suffers from arrested development, and floozy grandma is a kindred spirit. Now and then the two behave like a jaded Thelma and Louise. (Sarandon fared much better in that movie.)
Inspired by Grandma Pearl’s advice of “changing the trajectory of your whole life,” the two encounter love and lust via a father and son (Gary Cole and Mark Duplass) they meet in a bar. Not giving away too much, crime and jail occur before hooking up with cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) en route. The crime sequence especially showcases McCarthy’s specialty of slam-bang laughs. The problem is it goes on too long, belaboring the core, sparse humor.
Again, the flaws are in the editing, writing, and direction. Melissa McCarthy is gifted at improv, but it does not work as well in a structured, 96-minute motion picture. Most likely the scene was scripted, and McCarthy was given reign to improvise.
Add screenwriting to the failure list. During the final third of the film, Tammy miraculously becomes more mature, dresses better, and lightens up, per se, on the body slam yocks. The transition just does not sell. Was the scene where she gets a lobotomy edited out?
Look for cameos by Dan Akroyd as Tammy’s dad, Allison Janney as her mom, and Sandra Oh and Toni Collette in lesser roles. Director Ben Falcone shows up as Tammy’s boss.