Tammy movie review: women behaving badly

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Tammy red light

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.

Goddammit. *sigh*

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.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll measure. If you’re not a spammer or a troll, your comment will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately.
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Jennifer Merin
Jennifer Merin
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 2:35pm

Right on, MaryAnn! You nail it!!!

Thu, Jul 03, 2014 3:00pm

You know it’s gonna be bad when even the trailer is offensive. The question is how did all of the great talent get mixed up in this mess?

reply to  rosterri
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 4:00pm

My guess is the same reason MaryAnn was holding out hope for it: It’s a rare movie that’s primarily about women.

reply to  rosterri
Fri, Jul 11, 2014 5:35pm

Trailer wasn’t offensive, it was just stupid, inane and not funny. At all. Why waste money on this piece of crap.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 4:42pm

Well, the Wachowski’s managed two movies, early in their careers, that didn’t get lost in a self-referential and self-reverential fog. I suspect the Coens do seek outside perspectives, but even they fall into that fog at times; think The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. Even Burn After Reading rides that line awfully close.

I for one don’t understand the appeal of Melissa McCarthy and her Roseanne Barr-esque “Fat’n’Brassy” schtick.

reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 8:52pm

I’m with you on McCarthy. I haven’t found her funny in anything I’ve seen her in. She seems to play the same character in all her movies, which, sadly, may be all she’s been offered.

reply to  MarkyD
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 10:39pm

Recently read a major interview in Rolling Stone, and it sounds like she’s in a place right now that lets her control her own destiny. This movie is what she and her husband made of it. Horrifying, isn’t it?

Thu, Jul 03, 2014 5:11pm

Is there really any need for this movie to even exist in the first place?

Rod Ribeiro
Rod Ribeiro
Thu, Jul 03, 2014 10:42pm

We’ve learned to expect fat=lazy and fat=glutton stereotypes played for laughs, and I can stomach that as long as it’s not too blunt. McCarthy often subverts expectations like those too, which is also “comedic” because haha, fat people having sex and enjoying it, or haha, fat people can run too. But this movie, coming from people who in real life have spoken much against fat=passive, seems a sad step on the wrong direction.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Rod Ribeiro
Fri, Jul 04, 2014 10:40am

There are elements here that touch on how McCarthy has subverted stereotypes. For instance, the Mark Duplass character is genuinely attracted to her. But for no reason that we can see. Nothing to do with her looks: she’s crude, dumb, and completely unpleasant to be around. We never have any idea what he sees in her.

Fri, Jul 04, 2014 1:06am

I watched this movie from beginning to end. First thought: McCarthy is 43. Susan Sarandon is 67. Sorry, believability fails considering they are shown as two generations apart. Second thought: McCarthy has worn out her comedic welcome. Same stuff, different day, except not as good. Third thought: being as tall as you are wide is hard to overcome even with all that talent.

Synopsis: Save your self about $30 bucks and see something else.

reply to  FarmboyDuke
Fri, Jul 04, 2014 4:52am

…being as tall as you are wide is hard to overcome even with all that talent.

It’s only hard to overcome when closed-minded people pay more attention to her appearance than they do to her talent–for example, when they think her weight is something that needs to be “overcome.”

Fri, Jul 04, 2014 4:38am

You know, I still love McCarthy from Gilmore Girls, so I’m just going to avoid these movies to preserve my love. Seriously. GG may have been an often silly, too-concerned-with-romance show, but McCarthy’s character of Sookie St James was still a career woman as well – and a driven, highly accomplished one. And goofy and comedic. And NONE of that had a damn thing to do with her weight. Sigh…

Fri, Jul 04, 2014 7:47pm

I’ve liked MM in everything I’ve seen her in up to now (including some kick-ass SNLs as guest host). She seems to be what Marshall Mcluhen calls a “hot” personality. Too much of her is way too much of her; Johnny Carson/Dave Letterman and some others were/are “cool” personalities: they are easy to take and last a long time on TV or the radio. Hot stars glow white hot and burn themselves and us out.
Sad to say, unless she gets material that proves otherwise, she seems to go down best as the sidekick who doesn’t get all that much screen time.
She may also suffer from “Jerry Lewis Syndrome,” where she gets some success and wants to write/direct/produce herself in sentimental goo.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beowulf
Sat, Jul 05, 2014 10:53am

I just watched the most recent episode of *The Daily Show,* on which she was a guest. She was very funny, very entertaining, very genuine. *That*’s what needs to show up in movies. We don’t see that in *Tammy.* The McCarthy who was talking to Jon Stewart bore no resemblance to the McCarthy in this movie. It’s a damn shame.

Thu, Jul 24, 2014 3:26pm

Female in the lead,
Does not save this piece of crap.
Bad film is still bad.