*½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C
starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Kathy Bates
screenplay by Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone
directed by Ben Falcone
by Bill Chambers Though in the vein of the crude, crass characters Melissa McCarthy has given us since her breakout performance in Bridesmaids, McCarthy's Tammy swaggers onto the screen with a presumptuousness for which the actress's young but popular big-screen persona can't fully account. Even more than other SNL spinoff Sims like Joe Dirt or Hot Rod, there's something uncannily familiar about Tammy, and the maddening struggle to contextualize her makes her, ironically, all the more inexplicable. Tammy is about the adventure that spirals out from one very bad day for the title heroine: In quick succession, her car hits a deer, she gets fired, and she catches her husband (Nat Faxon) wining and dining their neighbour (Toni Collette, in perhaps the most thankless role of her career). But Tammy's slovenliness, minimum-wage job, and obvious lack of education--she doesn't know what "pattern" means--contrast sharply with details like the good housekeeping of her home, Faxon's zombie-like unflappability, and the mis-typecasting of Allison Janney in soccer-ready Solondz mode as her mom. A shorthand bit of characterization the filmmakers seem to nurture (by putting Tammy on a jet ski and casting Steve Little) sees the overbearing Tammy as the distaff equivalent to Kenny Powers of "Eastbound and Down"--but Kenny had legitimate talent and success behind him, thus explaining, if not justifying, not only his monstrous ego, but also some of the slack people cut him. Without either that foundational backstory or the luxury of an established cultural identity, Tammy remains a private joke between McCarthy and her co-writer/director/husband, Ben Falcone.
Tammy takes to the road to find herself with grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) in tow. Despite Sarandon's grizzled appearance, it's as difficult to buy her as a woman being threatened with the old-folks' home as it is to buy the 44-year-old McCarthy as the daughter of 54-year-old Janney. (It's unclear just how old Tammy's supposed to be, but McCarthy seems a little long in the tooth for the role.) As Pearl and Tammy flee domesticity across state lines, stopping in dive bars and running afoul of the law, Sarandon's casting makes the film's reverence for Thelma & Louise at once transparent and inadequate, the actress's very own Grudge Match. Unfortunately for Sarandon, she can't coast on nostalgia to the degree that De Niro and Stallone did, since Pearl is next to impossible to play: a font of maternal wisdom who's also an incongruously self-destructive cautionary tale. There's a tragic dimension to the character--a raging alcoholic with feet swollen from diabetes--that the film's upbeat tone refuses to accommodate, leaving Sarandon with little to do but power through on movie-star charisma. What little pathos is reserved for Tammy (Pearl's big dramatic moment? Hurting Tammy's feelings!), because this is a vanity project, after all, one that abuses the privilege of success in squandering overqualified actors--mostly actresses, unfortunately--on roles that bask in McCarthy's alleged glory. While I'm no fan of Sandra Oh, there's no doubting the part of Kathy Bates's barely-there lesbian wife is beneath her.
Calling Tammy a vanity project may seem like a contradiction in terms, considering how consistently unflattering McCarthy allows herself to look here. But Tammy is such a self-impressed creation, written to hit not emotional beats but trailer moments, like the audience-pandering little hip-hop routine she does on the way to robbing her former place of employ. (It's practically non-diegetic.) It's nice to see McCarthy give herself the handsome suitor (shark-grinned Mark Duplass) Hollywood's double-standards would deny her but to which she's perfectly entitled according to the laws of Woody Allen movies and the Happy Madison universe; the problem is not that Duplass's Bobby is too slim for plump Tammy (although I readily admit, it's an unconventional sight), it's that he's too milquetoast to credibly fall for someone who's always "on" like this. Once he shows up, it becomes clear that we're supposed to find Tammy not just hilarious but charming as well, yet the character's jagged edges convey only McCarthy's star-vehicle opportunism. Falcone ain't exactly Fellini, either, laurels from the Palm Springs International Film Festival notwithstanding.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner brings Tammy to Blu-ray in an "Extended Edition" that seamlessly branches three minutes of additional footage into the film when this longer cut is selected. None of the new material is annotated so I can't speak to its ultimate impact, but as the extended version isn't very racy I can't imagine it would've jeopardized Tammy's R rating. Oddly, the picture was shot on film (by "Freaks and Geeks" DP Russ Alsobrook), and the 1.78:1, 1080p transfer retains an appealingly cinematic grain structure. With the colour graders applying the light touch reserved for television, the gaudy wardrobe designs and Kentucky greenery are allowed to pop--and pop they do, in this presentation. The picture looks fun even when it isn't, although a slight tendency towards overexposure is in evidence in the periodically flat blacks and blown-out whites. The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track replicates a front-heavy mix with pin-prick clarity. Bass levels take one by surprise at times, such as when Salt-N-Pepa's "None of Your Business" drops on the soundtrack, or when Bates starts blowing things up. (Don't ask.)
A smattering of extras begins with "Tammy's Road Trip Checklist" (4 mins., HD), actually a junket interview with Falcone and McCarthy about the road trip home they took with their bored kids after production wrapped. McCarthy's comedy is pleasantly low-key here. Although the movie's "Gag Reel" (3 mins., HD) is a horrible waste of time, it's worth noting that Toni Collette exudes more personality therein than she does in Tammy proper. A "Deleted Scenes" (5 mins. in total, HD) section reveals what would've been my favourite scene, a conversation between Sarandon and McCarthy that addresses Tammy's weight in a non-didactic way; how Tammy navigates away from the subject is some pretty truthful writing. Finally, "Fun Extras" takes inspiration from Judd Apatow in cobbling together leftover improvs into three separate themed montages running 2 minutes apiece: "Poom-o-rama" (Tammy and others giving the finger); "Wave-o-rama" (Tammy on a jet ski--admittedly, "I'm Poseidon!" is inspired)\; and "Mindless chat-o-rama" (Sarandon and McCarthy vamping while driving). Trailers for Horrible Bosses 2 and The Hobbit: Enough Already cue up on startup of the disc, which comes bundled with DVD and portable copies of the film.