Film Review: Tammy

Hollywood's most bankable big-screen comedienne is on the buddy-comedy road again, with a most worthy companion--a brilliantly out-there Susan Sarandon.

In Tammy, Melissa McCarthy literally tramples the scenery, as a rude, crude, self-centered tantrum-thrower who goes on a road trip with a seemingly incompatible companion, and comes out the other end with her life all figured out. If that reminds you of her 2013 hit comedy Identity Thief, that’s probably what this movie’s marketers had in mind. But if that’s the case, they are selling their product short. In every important way, Tammy is the better McCarthy vehicle. It’s warmer, wittier, far less slickly contrived, and much more recognizably human, in its emotions and behavior, even during those moments when McCarthy is doing her thing: outrageously, ridiculously acting out, with a sort of improvisational overdrive unmatched by any of her peers.

That’s what customers are paying to see, and as Tammy, McCarthy doesn’t disappoint. Whether she’s trashing the kitchen of the fast-food joint she’s just been fired from or “comin’ in hot” on a Jet Ski she’s about to catastrophically run aground, McCarthy pulls out all the stops. In response, the crowd roars.

McCarthy is a force of nature, of course. As she proved in Identity Thief, she can make chicken salad out of chicken byproducts. But what gives her show-stopping solo flights an extra kick here is they’re the acting-out of a woman who’s been largely a loser in life. By the time we meet her, Tammy’s mad as hell, and she’s not gonna take it anymore. And that’s before she comes home early from the crummy job she just lost, and finds husband Greg (Nat Faxon) romancing neighbor Missi (Toni Collette). You can see why this poor sad sack would want to pack up her frumpy clothes and just get out of town.

Since she’s broke and car-less, Tammy grudgingly accepts the offer of functional wheels and traveling money from her alcoholic, diabetic handful of a grandmother, Pearl (Sarandon), who is also eager to hit the road, before Tammy’s mother (Allison Janney) can pack her off to a nursing home. Tammy and Pearl aren’t exactly on hugging terms (more about that as the film unfolds)—but both know when desperate measures are called for. Destination: Niagara Falls. No one ever explains why Niagara Falls, but that’s sort of the point. These two castoffs are heading anywhere because it’s better than where they are.

The ensuing road trip is fraught with mishaps, including a hilariously inept stick-up at a fast-food restaurant (poetic justice), which somehow proves successful. But what really drives this movie is the love-hate relationship between Tammy and Pearl. And that is fueled by the unique interplay between McCarthy and Sarandon.

If McCarthy’s Tammy is the film’s irresistible force, Sarandon’s Pearl is its other irresistible force. She’s an aging free spirit whose spirit is still on the loose, and currently off its meds—which makes her alternately ornery, out-of-it and, every so often, serenely lucid. Sarandon plays this with an almost ethereal air; her mood swings are mercurial yet they seamlessly segue. She and McCarthy stir up a complex chemistry, dancing around each other, bouncing off each other, coming together in perfect sync. There is no straight man here. There is only a dynamic duo.

McCarthy co-wrote this script with the director Ben Falcone, her husband for nearly ten years. From the looks of this, their life partnership has the potential to bear fruit as an ongoing creative collaboration. Maybe they should stick with this—which doesn’t mean that a Tammy Two is the way they should go. Then again, why not?  With what they’ve put into their title character, Tammy may be the rare recent comedy that truly deserves a sequel.

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