For a movie entitled Tammy, the comedy team of husband and wife Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy should have sought to make the lead character the most interesting aspect of the film.
They failed at that.
Instead, what we get is Melissa McCarthy wearing a blonde fright wig, and in almost every scene, playing a sort of female version of the Apatow / Will Ferrell man-child, (unsurprisingly, the film comes from Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions).
Then, Falcone and co-writer McCarthy did something very, very smart in a movie celebrating the very, very dumb—cast a diverse group of comedic actors to comprise the supporting cast, which works to a somewhat mixed effect.
Failing to attract Shirley MacLaine as originally planned, nor Debbie Reynolds, the second lead role of Tammy’s grandmother Pearl is instead played by Susan Sarandon, who is at least ten years too young for the part. She tries to make up for it by wearing her own version of a fright wig, which is white and unfortunately curled. Sarandon is fine in this role, and hits the appropriate beats, although watching once virginal Janet Weiss embody the horny grandma role becomes somewhat unnerving, more than just a jump to the left and then a step to the right.
More unnerving is the choice of Mark Duplass for the aw shucks nice guy leading role. Duplass displays exactly none of the edge shown in his mumblecore aesthetic or on The League.
Maybe even more surprising is Gary Cole playing the horny old guy father of Bobby (Duplass). For southern fried Earl, Cole is far, far too young for this one-note role, though it is always nice to see him, so the casting is a not exactly a lump of Cole.
Essentially, Tammy seems to play on a variant of a somewhat well-trod plot device. Tammy loses her job at Topper Jack’s, a fast-food restaurant, because she hits a deer on the highway in the opening scene, and decides to report to work covered in blood. Her boss Keith, played by director Falcone, is none too pleased, which leads a humorous albeit nonsensical firing scene, which seemed to be somewhat improvised, yet not quite as hilarious as it could have been.
Already down, Tammy returns home to find that her husband Greg, played by Nat Faxon, eating dinner with neighbour Missi, played by neighbour Toni Collette, which in the movie’s eyes seems to constitute heavy cheating, so Tammy, jobless and homeless, is forced to seek refuge with her mother, (Alison Janney), who lives about four doors down. It is hopefully a coincidence that Faxon, Collette and Janney were all a large part of The Way Way Back, but here serve only as plot devices to get Tammy from one place to the other, and then pretty much cease to exist for the remainder of the film.
Once Tammy arrives at her mother’s house, her grandmother Pearl appears with a large wad of cash and a car, and off they go to Niagara Falls, searching for a better life (and a good time).
Tammy goes through a number of ups and downs along the course of the trip, some of them entertaining, such as an ill-fated robbery of another Topper Jack’s, and many of them unfunny, like an abortive early scene where Tammy crashes a jet ski, which played far too much like a first draft of a joke. The scene, though, includes Steve Little (Stevie from Eastbound and Down) as the voice of authority, which adds on another bizarre casting choice.
Before the resolution of the journey, (and to run away from the law), Tammy and Pearl venture off the home of cousin Lenore, along with her lesbian life partner Susanne. Here it becomes clear what this abuse-filled film is trying to be: a rip on Nebraska, with Tammy as David, and Pearl as Woody, in a road trip that veers off course. This is crystallized in part because Tammy and Pearl are played by Alexander Payne veterans Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh. Bates, quite frankly, is the strongest part of the film, and Oh not far behind. But through these casting choices, Tammy reveals itself to be an ode to the redemptive power of Payne and suffering.