At the screening of Tammy I caught, on its second Friday of release, the audience consisted of myself, elderly couples, pairs of women of a certain age and body shape, and a group of mentally disabled seniors in wheelchairs. There were a lot of people, and a lot of laughter; the mirth was infectious, and I succumbed, because I wanted to be amused. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to watch Tammy; I wanted to experience a movie on a Friday night with a large group of people I didn’t know, and Tammy was the sole viable option locally. The Lewisburg theatre was showing Belle, which I didn’t really care about, and everything else at the Selinsgrove theatre was exploding robots or apes or bullshit I’d already seen or would never pay to see under any circumstances.
All of the aforementioned is intended to set the scene, or to set a tone, for a review I don’t know how to write, because Tammy is a glorious fucking mess that I don’t regret putting myself through but never, ever want to watch again. Is that a contradictory reaction? Probably. There’s something to be said for this particular strain of manipulative popular cinema, but the difference between most of that and Tammy is that if The Wedding Planner and My Big Fat Greek Wedding turn up on cable, I will switch off my brain and submit; those movies were better written and directed and staged (if not necessarily acted) than Tammy, which endeavors to be the Bad Santa or Bad Grandpa or Men Behaving Badly of post-Apatow click-flick skullduggery and half-succeeds.
We meet Tammy (Melissa McCarthy), a fast-food employee, on arguably the worst day of her life. In short order, she hits a deer on her way to work, gets clocked by the deer when she tries to save it, is late to work and gets canned, then arrives home early to discover that her doormat husband Greg (Nat Faxon, operating on a no-pulse Kevin Nealon level) is canoodling with a neighbor (Toni Collette in a role a mannequin could have filled) who is somehow even more bloodless and boring than the husband. Since Tammy is one of those people given to blaming life for her misfortunes, and because McCarthy is such a committed physical performer, this early stretch invites intense audience ridicule or empathy, depending on one’s perspective. Fuming, Tammy storms home to her mom (Alison Janney, with nothing to do) and hits the road with alcoholic slut bucket grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon, having a ball, the biggest reason to stick with this movie). Where are they going? What will they do? Why, to find America, and maybe themselves.
The premise hearkens back to Thelma & Louise, somewhat, and one hungers to watch these two fuck this up beyond all measure. We want mayhem, explosions, debauchery, the willful smashing of taboos, and a better, less conventional script would have given us those things. McCarthy co-wrote the script with husband Ben Falcone, who directed it, and I don’t think I’m giving anything anyway to say that the couple embrace a traditional redemptive, ugly duckling-to-lovely swan narrative that’s telegraphed early on and makes it difficult to forgive the movie’s sins. There’s a curious mélange of inept staging and blocking on Falcone’s part—this is his first directing job—with a handful of uproarious set-pieces that include a fast-food joint robbery and McCarthy’s overblown reaction to losing her gig. Pearl and Tammy spaz out on each other in public and mess with business employees by shoving stuff off of shelves or dislodging stuff from racks. Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh show up because, you know, plot and climax and shattering realization, and Bates throws a massive July 4th party at a mansion full of lesbians dancing to shitty pop hits. Dan Ackroyd cashes a paycheck. Gary Cole appears as “Earl” so Pearl can get some hot nookie, which is where the narrative probably should’ve blown off Tammy and Bobby (Mark Duplass), Earl’s son who’s only marginally more appropriate a love interest than doormat Greg. And on and on and on—the scene where they’re preparing to torch Pearl’s car, and McCarthy screams “Four dollars a gallon? Thanks, Obamacare” somehow crystallizes where we are in this country—all of this is juggled and handled so awkwardly that it emits a disjointed, jangling dissonance that carries the viewer through the movie even as you’re praying for it to end.
You wind up full of wonder and amazement at the fact that Tammy was even allowed to exist in final form without at least one Roseanne Barr cameo. Then you’re almost insulted that Roseanne didn’t get to make at least a couple movies like this—movies that would have been more subversive and offensive and cult—in the 1980s and 90s. You laugh along, carried by the rest of the audience, because laughing is preferable to crying, and because it’s not like you’re going to get your money back.
As of this writing, Tammy has more than doubled its budget in ticket sales, and that velocity is unlikely to change anytime soon. Tammy wasn’t necessarily made for me, and there’s an undeniable vicarious thrill for the intended audience of this movie in watching a rich, famous comedian—who was funnier in her 15 allotted minutes of The Hangover III than she was for the entirety of Tammy—play a trashy idiot fuck-up tornado of a slob who eventually cleans up real good. The juggernaut will roll on. I just wish it all meant something.