If drama is easy and comedy is hard, then it’s no wonder Tammy makes both seem impossible. Not serious enough to be considered a drama and certainly not funny enough to be labeled a comedy, Melissa McCarthy’s feature screenwriting debut — which she penned with husband Ben Falcone — is a jumbled, nonsensical, morally-challenged mess. Even worse, it wastes an impeccable cast on material not fit for a first draft, let alone a studio shoot.
One may not know it from the one-woman show it’s touted as in ads, but Tammy consists of two Oscar winners, three Academy Award nominees, and a five-time Emmy winner in its main cast of maybe ten total characters. That means half of the ensemble enlisted for this forgettable mess of a comedy is indisputably credible, capable, and—at least one time—compelling. Supporting McCarthy’s titular character are Susan Sarandon (as her alcoholic, horny grandmother), Kathy Bates (her wealthy and wise aunt), Allison Janney (her plain Jane mother), Dan Akroyd (a cameo role for the ex-Ghostbuster), Mark Duplass (a love interest), and Toni Collette (as her husband’s new love interest).
Looking at the cast list may make you consider watching what’s been a widely-panned summer blockbuster — don’t. Tammy, which has no discernible overarching plot outside getting Tammy and Pearl (Sarandon) to Niagra Falls, is lacking in every department. Some critics have argued this, and this alone, makes viewing this a spectacle of sorts, much like going to the circus to see the freaks was a spectacle of old. I use this simile not because observing anyone or anything in this movie is a study of the grotesque — despite what the should-be ex-New York Observer critic Rex Reed would have you believe — but instead because watching these talented people struggle with material so inept its beyond even their saving hands is actually much more depressing than paying to see abnormal individuals perform extraordinary feats.
Despite the genial cast’s presence, there’s simply nothing special about Tammy. Even the special features are a half-assed attempt at entertainment, consisting of a gag reel not funny enough to make the credits—there is a gag in the credits, and these rank beneath even that boring bit—as well as some unnecessary deleted scenes and a few two-to-four minute bonus features about waterskiing and making the film.
It’s here that Tammy goes from just being bad to marking a huge disappointment. McCarthy and Falcone made this film in what we can only imagine was a genuine project of love, love between the two of them and for one another. That none of that made its way into the script or onto the screen is as shocking as it is tragic, especially when considering the talent McCarthy has on her own. An Oscar nominee herself for Bridesmaids, the comic actress has proven capable of sparking chemistry and cracking jokes even in the most inane drivel. She did so earlier this year in Identity Thief opposite Jason Bateman, another talented thespian deserving of better scripts.
So what went wrong with Tammy? The easy answer is “everything”, but it’s not the whole story. It’s not that McCarthy is unlikable in Tammy; rather, it’s that she’s unreadable. The first half the film establishes her as, well, no one really. While it’s common practice for studio films to make their protagonists blandly identifiable, there’s nothing to identify with here. Tammy is a woman having a bad day, and she takes it out on everyone around her. She does this for most of the movie, learning little and accomplishing less.
Her grandmother, meanwhile, isn’t fleshed out until two-thirds of the way through the movie, making an awkward transition from boozy party animal in search of a good time at all costs to a mean alcoholic with daughter-issues. Sarandon does the best she can with the character, but I can only imagine her asking for direction again and again only to be given none.
McCarthy and Falcone may be the only two who know what really went wrong with Tammy, seeing as they wrote the thing. The rest of us will be left wondering and hoping they’ll produce something worthy of not only their cast next time, but of themselves.