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‘Tammy’ goes adrift

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By NATHAN LERNER
Film Critic

I try to approach films with an open mind. I really do.
However, I just can’t help but notice certain contextual cues. The film, “Tammy,” was poised for a midweek release in advance of the July 4 festivities. Studios customarily use this coveted holiday slot for theatrical roll-outs of projected box office blockbusters. The original “Transformers,”“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and of course the aptly-titled “Independence Day” come readily to mind as examples of this stratagem. Such films are preceded by massive publicity campaigns.
With the release date for “Tammy” rapidly approaching, only the most superficial details were known about the film. Its truncated trailer focused on a single scene. In it, Melissa McCarthy, the film’s eponymous star, is ineptly robbing a fast food joint with strains of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” playing in the background.
Ordinarily, trailers are crafted to tout the best components of the film. Was this decidedly unfunny vignette really the best that the comedy had to offer? I shuddered to think what the rest of the film would be like.
The studio, Warner Brothers, was atypically tight-lipped about “Tammy.” Although Melissa McCarthy made the talk show circuit, the content of the film was enshrouded in relative secrecy.
What was the marketing strategy? I certainly couldn’t divine any logic to it. Now that I have seen the film, I can better understand what was going on. The studio’s publicity department simply had no way to put a positive spin on this execrable work.
The film revolves around all the things going wrong in the life of an overweight, Midwestern, working class slob. As the titular Tammy drives to work, she plows her Toyota Corolla into a deer. Delayed by this little mishap, she arrives late to her thankless minimum–wage job at Topper Jack’s, a fast food joint. There, Tammy’s officious boss (Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband and the film’s director/co-writer) fires her for tardiness and banishes her from the premises.
Humiliated and now unemployed, Tammy has to walk home. There, she discovers her husband (Nat Faxon) serving a romantic meal to their neighbor (Toni Collette, thoroughly wasted). Indignant, Tammy stomps off to her parents’ house, which is conveniently several doors down.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Susan Sarandon, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Tammy." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Saeed Adyani)

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Susan Sarandon, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from “Tammy.” (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Saeed Adyani)

Tammy is desperate to escape this provincial hamlet of Murphysboro, Illinois, but now has no operative vehicle. She attempts to borrow a car from her mother, Deb (Allison Janney). However, Deb refuses to lend her car to Tammy, who has proven to be chronically irresponsible.
So, Tammy reluctantly asks her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon, slumming it) to borrow her automobile. Pearl agrees, but only if Tammy will drive her on a road trip to Niagara Falls.
Does hilarity ensue? Nope. Can we muster any sympathy for the plight of this overbearing protagonist with poor impulse control? Hardly. The poor viewer is forced to endure scene after scene of humorless inanity. A crude sensibility dominates these vignettes.
“Tammy” contains much to dislike. A random thirty-something (Mark Duplass) meets Tammy at a local tavern. The abrupt shift in his attitude toward Tammy is wildly implausible. In their scenes together, Duplass’ meandering mumblecore is at odds with the cadences of McCarthy’s frenzied dialogue. “Tammy” displays an incongruous amalgam of homophobia and homophilia. The latter is evident at a lesbian July 4th party, held at the home of Pearl’s cousin, Lenore (Kathy Bates). Most repugnant is the film’s use of grandma Pearl’s constellation of problems; alcoholism, OxyContin addiction, diabetes, and sexual promiscuity; as joke fodder.
The generational construct of the film is confounding. McCarthy looks every day of her 43 years. Even with prosthetic crankles and grey hair, it strains credulity that the 67-year old Sarandon is two generations older than McCarthy’s character.
McCarthy was the break-out star of the 2011 ensemble piece, “Bridesmaids.” Her corpulent, foul-mouthed character offered a stark contrast to her more svelte and demure female cast-mates.
McCarthy followed up with two films last year, “Identity Thief” and “The Heat.”In each, she recycled the exact same brash, unfiltered persona. Was McCarthy incapable of portraying anything else? Seeing “Tammy,” buttressed my doubts.
Perhaps, you are thinking that McCarthy is simply the victim of a bad script. The screenplay is indeed horrendous. However, this doesn’t exculpate McCarthy. She and her husband, Ben Falcone, co-wrote it.

Screen capture of the movie trailer for "Tammy" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd0XfrwuMEA

Screen capture of the movie trailer for “Tammy” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd0XfrwuMEA

Debuting as a director, Falcone deserves an extra measure of blame. Sarandon and Bates each won an Academy Award for “Dead Man Walking” and “Misery” respectively. Has there ever been a film this bad with two Oscar-winning actresses in it? The entire cast — which also includes Dan Aykroyd, Gary Cole, and Sandra Oh — seems adrift as if there was no director on the set.
I respect and appreciate that McCarthy has had to overcome a panoply of biases, which pervade the entertainment industry. She has battled against generic misogyny, as well as the prevailing prejudices against obese women and a lower tolerance threshold for raunchy humor originating from females. I give her credit for making it this far with her career.
None of this changes the fact that in both 2013 and 2014, McCarthy has starred in films, which vied for the worst of their year.
Like “Identity Thief” before it, “Tammy” is yet another dreadful film, devoid of any redeeming merit. Unless you want to be subjected to torture, “Tammy” should be studiously avoided.

“Tammy”
½* R (for language including sexual references) 96 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

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