Tammy begins with the titular character (Melissa McCarthy) driving her rundown Toyota Corolla through the farmlands of Illinois. On the passenger seat, a CD boom box plays Classic Rock. Suddenly a deer jumps out of nowhere and smashes into the Corolla. Tammy gets out of the car, apologizes to the animal and tries to give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (by blowing on it from a distance). Miraculously, the deer springs to life and gallops off into the woods. Sadly, Tammy does not.
Tammy’s tough day continues as the deer incident results in her being late for work at her fast-food job. The manager (played by Ben Falcone–the movie’s director and McCarthy’s real-life husband) fires her and Tammy returns home early to find her husband (Nat Faxon) is having an affair with the neighbor (Toni Collete). With nothing left to lose, Tammy decides to hit the road with her alcoholic, pill-popping grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon) who has a car and cash. Their destination is Niagara Falls, but thanks to beer and sheer stupidity, they end up in Missouri and continue heading south.
Tammy is a movie that was delivered dead on arrival. I don’t know exactly which phase in the development process Tammy was murdered, but it makes it to screens this holiday weekend in a body bag. There are moments that glimpse into what Tammy might have been that indicated that at one point, Tammy was about something. One such scene involves Tammy returning to her house to say goodbye to her husband and gather her things only to find that the mistress has folded and packed her clothes for her. A very small moment that illustrates how easily Tammy can be replaced. Another has Tammy’s rich relative (played excellently by Kathy Bates) giving a stern lecture to the particular branch of the middle-class that Tammy belongs to. In a mediocre movie, these two scenes would elevate the material to good, but in a bad movie, there is little to salvage. They act as nothing more than a reminder that even bad movies had good intentions, they just got buried along the way.
What makes the character of Tammy so uncomfortable and confusing is the way McCarthy plays her. McCarthy (who co-wrote the script with Falcone in addition to producing) doesn’t seem fully convinced who Tammy is and what it is that is standing in her way. At times, Tammy comes off as mental slow, in others, she acts both emotionally and sexually arrested, and in far too many, just plain stupid. Occasionally, McCarthy portrays an honest and broken face that made me wonder if Tammy was just dealt a bum hand. Then she says something stupid/crude (most likely for a laugh) and any sympathies fly right out the window. McCarthy is a talented actress who played the interesting and often complex Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls for seven seasons before reinventing her image as scene-stealing comic relief for Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013). You see a little of Sookie underneath Tammy’s confused exterior and there are moments where Tammy tries to utilize McCarthy’s comic appeal, but neither succeeds.
Tammy is Falcone’s directorial debut and he does little to convince the audience that he deserved the job. With the exception of a couple of gratuitously stupid slow-motion sequences, there is nothing notable about the staging, shooting or editing of any scene. At the end of the movie, Tammy explains that she is now in a much better place, “I like my job, I like where I live, I like the guy in my life.” Yet, we never see where she works. We never see where she lives. We sort of see Tammy and her love interest, Bobby (Mark Duplass), together, but it is of little significance. Apparently, the axiom ‘show don’t tell’ didn’t make it Falcone’s way.
Why did McCarthy and Falcone write this script? Why did Falcone want to direct this project? Was Tammy the movie McCarthy and Falcone wanted to make? Or, did they think Tammy was the movie they could get made? Is that why Tammy uses the word ‘shit’ over and over again to describe anything about herself? Maybe. There is one line of dialog that perfectly sums up Tammy for me: Tammy and Pearl are at a fast food restaurant to return money Tammy stole the previous night. Pearl tells the girl behind the counter, “Look into my eyes. None of this ever happened.” Here’s hoping.