Hollywood movies can famously broken down to a “pitch”—a pithy catchphrase that sells the film to potential investors. I’m trying to figure out what the pitch for Tammy might’ve been: “Melissa McCarthy in a car with Susan Sarandon and . . .uh . . . who cares? The kids love Melissa McCarthy!”
Road trip films are generally literal and metaphorical journeys—as the character drives across the country, they learn something new about themselves and grow. But what exactly is the journey of McCarthy’s Tammy? She’s not a character at all, merely an amalgam of every role that McCarthy has ever played before—all reckless id and vulgarity with a secret sweetness under all that messy, outsized bravado. It’s a funny character, especially in small doses, or when paired with an expert foil like Sandra Bullock. And it’s important, I think, that McCarthy is the first female actress to embody this particular archetype (previously played by the likes of John Belushi and Chris Farley). But it’s already grown tiresome. And I’m about to bestow upon Tammy the worst insult I can give: It reminded me of Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups.
Like Grown Ups, Tammy was so lazily put together, so inept, it barely qualifies as a movie at all, just an excuse for some friends (or friendly colleagues) to get together and have a good ol’ time making a movie. It’s the kind of film that displays a flagrant disrespect for moviegoers. It thinks we’re not paying attention.
So here’s the “plot”: Tammy is having a terrible day. When we first see her, she’s in her car eating Cheetos (more on this later) and she hits a deer, nearly totaling the car. There’s a bit of business where she tries to give the deer mouth to mouth. Then she goes to work at a fast food joint and gets fired for being late. There’s a bit of business where she spits on hamburger buns. Then she goes home to find her husband is having a romantic dinner with the next door neighbor. There’s a bit of business where she climbs onto a counter, searching for stashed money, and crashes hilariously to the ground.
Are we having fun yet?
She ends up hitting the road with her bored, alcoholic granny, played by Susan Sarandon.
Yes, I said granny. This is one ofthe film’s many head-scratchers. Why is Susan Sarandon, who is 67, playing the grandmother to McCarthy, who is 43? (To add to the weirdness, we have Allison Janney, age 54, playing McCarthy’s mother.) Yes, they give Sarandon an unflattering gray bob (and diabetes!) but they also have her hook up with a randy farmer played by Gary Cole, aged 57.
It all makes zero sense.
Stars keeping showing up, eager to join the fun (again, I can’t emphasize this enough: their fun, not ours). Kathy Bates is a lesbian who likes to blow things up; Sandra Oh is her boho girlfriend. Did I mention that Toni Collette plays the adulterous next-door neighbor? There’s a surprise cameo, of sorts, from the actor who plays Tammy’s father. Suffice it to say, when I saw him, I thought, “Et tu?”
Look, a movie can be slapped together and silly and even pointless if it’s truly funny (see 22 Jump Street). Tammy is, at times, aggressively unfunny. At times, watching it felt like seeing a comedian bombing on stage.
Now, back to those Cheetos. There was an essay in Entertainment Weekly about how we shouldn’t focus on McCarthy’s weight—it’s sexist and fat-shaming. Well-intentioned as that article was, I disagree with it. McCarthy uses her weight, on purpose. It’s one of the tools of her comedy. She plays up her character’s ungainliness (Tammy on water skis! Tammy running!) and appetites—at one point, Tammy admits that she was boinking the ice cream man for the Klondike Bars (okay, that’s funny). Later, she considers diving into the Niagra Falls to go after a rogue bag of Cheetos. Again, I think fatness, if you will, was a big part of what made Belushi, Farley, and John Candy funny—and they knew it. Of course, calling someone names is never acceptable (Rex Reed famously called McCarthy a “female hippo”—I hope he doesn’t mind if I call him an “obsolete dinosaur”). But to discreetly look away from something that McCarthy is intentionally putting front and center is patronizing, in my opinion.
There’s nothing wrong with McCarthy using her weight or, indeed, any of her many gifts to sell her comedy. But I’ve seen McCarthy in enough things to know that she is a talented comedienne and actress. Isn’t it time she abandoned this shtick and took on a new challenge?