Tammy movie review: women behaving badly
Dumb, pointless, unentertaining crap. But at least it’s about women. Yay? Nah.
I’m “biast” (pro):
love Melissa McCarthy…
I’m “biast” (con): …but despair that she will ever get a film worthy of her talent
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Well, it’s a step in the right direction. I suppose. A tiny one.
There are a lot of women onscreen in Tammy. In the same way that most movies feature a ton of men onscreen doing stupid shit for an hour and half with only occasional interruptions from women. That’s what Tammy is. It’s dumb, pointless, unentertaining crap. But at least it’s about women.
What does Tammy (Melissa McCarthy: The Heat, The Hangover Part III) want? She’s the central character of this aimless collection of random, supposedly comedic setpieces, and we have no idea who she is. Not really. As the film opens, she loses her job — a shitty one in a fictional fast food chain — and she loses her car — a shitty beater done in by a run-in with a deer — and she loses her husband… and we don’t have the faintest idea what their marriage, or its failure, is about. The loss of the car and the job come with more emotional timbre (though not much) and far more narrative justification than any of the human relationships shoved at us here. Who thought that was a good idea?
I’m guessing that’s down to screenwriters McCarthy and Ben Falcone, who also directs (this is the actor’s directorial debut; he also appears in a few scenes). Could be it’s a big problem that they’re married to each other. Maybe they cracked each other up with this crap, but we are not part of their relationship and whatever intimate, personal in-jokes they might share that made this work for them. Maybe they needed someone from the outside to tell them it wasn’t working for the rest of us. (Then again, other close teams — the Wachowskis, the Coens — manage to make movies together that appeal to those of us who aren’t their best lifelong buds.)
Anyway, Tammy comes home from getting fired to find her husband (Nat Faxon: The Way, Way Back, Bad Teacher) having the most unromantic romantic dinner ever with a neighbor (Toni Collette: A Long Way Down, The Way, Way Back). Seriously, they could have been having a neighborhood watch meeting, for all the fireworks Tammy walks in on. But she apparently sees something we don’t, and has information about her relationship with her husband that is never ever shared with us. I mean, yes, she’s a pretty terrible person in almost every respect, but the guy married her anyway, so something must have worked at some point, in some way.
But now the marriage is over for whatever reason, so Tammy skips off home; her parents live two houses down, which is supposed to be funny but isn’t. She wants to borrow Mom’s (Allison Janney: Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Touchy Feely) car… to go where and do what? It’s such a mystery that Tammy doesn’t even know. Mom says no, because of a bunch of stuff about Tammy that indicates that she is useless, directionless, and unself-aware. Instead, Grandma (Susan Sarandon: Cloud Atlas, That’s My Boy) says they can take her car, and her money (Tammy has none, of course), and drive around going nowhere and doing nothing.
Well, that’s not quite true. Tammy still has no idea what to do with herself — and recall, she is allegedly the protagonist of this story — but Grandma says, Let’s go to Niagara Falls, for a fairly random reason. Certainly it has zip to do with Tammy’s needs or desires.
I mean, c’mon: Even the dumbest, crappiest movie is about a central character who wants something: to get laid; to drive across town and buy some pot; to just get through the day with sanity intact. But not only does Tammy not seem to know what she wants, Tammy doesn’t seem to have any narrative awareness of what might make her life less of a misery. A character can lack self-awareness. Her story should not. It’s one of the most unforgivable sins a story can commit: not knowing what it is about, if only at its most shallow, at its most on-the-nose surface.
So the plot bounces arbitrarily around, accidentally striking situations that are not at all funny but are presented to us as hilarious: an incident with a jet-ski; a lesbian Fourth of July party; an incident of unarmed armed robbery. It’s painful seeing a great cast — which also includes Kathy Bates (Midnight in Paris, A Little Bit of Heaven), Sandra Oh (Ramona and Beezus, Blindness), Gary Cole (Hop, Extract), and Mark Duplass (Parkland, Zero Dark Thirty) — trying to whip some sense of meaning into the words they are being forced to say and the scenarios they are being forced to enact. It’s uncomfortable to watch Tammy’s relationship with her grandmother devolve into a weird contest to see who can be more unlikeable, not in a lovable doofus popcorn-comedy kind of way but just plain nasty and unpleasant to the point where you fail to grasp why we’re supposed to be enjoying spending time with these people.
Oh, and that “at least it’s about women” thing? Tammy ends up trashing that, too. Bad enough that Janney has been asked to play mother to an actress only 11 years younger than her, and Sarandon to play grandmother to an actress only 24 years younger. But it becomes clear that the reason the movie goes with “grandmother” — when there’s no reason why Sarandon’s character couldn’t have been Tammy’s mother — is that “grandma likes having sex” is apparently intended to be much much funnier than “mom likes having sex.” That is not a female-friendly attitude. Even grading on the stupid-grossout-comedy scale.