If the sole measure of a comedy film is the laughs it can elicit, then Tammy is fine…I guess. Melissa McCarthy’s defiant, can-do attitude is endearing, even in the face of total humiliation–as Tammy, her car is destroyed by a deer, she loses her job, and finds her husband’s been romancing a more conventionally attractive neighbor (all this is the film’s opening act). Frustration leads to a compulsive desire to run away with rude, alcoholic grandma Susan Sarandon. The pair bicker and needle one another, attempt to pick up men, and get into trouble with the law on their way to Niagara Falls. When Sarandon’s drunken antics land her in jail, Tammy opts to rob a fast food franchise for bail money, a Thelma and Louise skit which ate up a disproportionate amount of the film’s advertising compared to its presence.
Instead, director/co-writer Ben Falcone (who wrote the script with McCarthy) lingers on McCarthy debasing herself with tantrums (knocking items off racks and throwing food), when she’s not schooling grandma on the proper way to sing an Allman Brothers song or frowning over guys not seeing past her physique. By the time we get McCarthy and Sarandon fighting teeny boppers over bottles of booze, Niagara Falls seems forgotten. Repeatedly, Falcone and McCarthy slide into SNL/Judd Apatow/Family Guy mode of cameo-based non-sequiturs, references and fuck gags. As fitfully amusing as it is watching McCarthy wear bags over her head and hand, pretending she has a gun and posturing to rap music, it lacks any connection to Tammy’s motivation in the moment. This scattershot approach to comedy extends to conflicts, as well: much of the film is taken with the antagonism between Tammy and her grandmother, boiling over at an Independence Day party–only to fizzle and fix itself through the magic of screenwriter apathy (a favorite trick of the Apatow brand, which raised McCarthy’s popularity with Bridesmaids). Nothing is resolved, it merely stops or changes based on arbitrary whims.
This in itself threatens to encroach into the territory of Werner Herzog and the Coen Brothers, where humor arises from human folly. Best laid plans or well intentions do not yield the desired result, and any attempt to understand this is doomed. Tammy‘s tidy, happy endings avoid such notions in favor of mush. Hard to fathom how anyone could make a road film so immobile.