Genuinely sweet and often funny, Tammy’s problem lies not in its lack of big laughs but in its title character.
I’ll say this for Tammy, I really liked going to see a comedy whose primary humour is, for once, not derived from characters being cruel to one another or just plain grossness as the main source of comedy. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things in concept, so long as the jokes are actually funny, it’s just nice to get some variety in comedies. When one of the characters snaps and refers to Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) as “cheeseburger,” it’s played for drama instead of laughs. There’s a legitimate sweetness running through the film, though it may poke fun at its character, it feels more like good-natured ribbing than mean-spiritedness and that makes a nice change of pace. Know what’s also a nice change of pace? Homosexuals being treated as people in 15-rated comedies instead of punchlines. There’s a sequence where Tammy and her grandmother, Pearl, (Susan Sarandon) end up at Pearl’s cousin’s (Kathy Bates) house for a lesbian 4th of July party and at no point does the film make a joke about two straight women being at a party for lesbians – OK, it does so once, but it’s invoked by the characters themselves as a sweet way to establish how close they are.
I take time to bring those things up because they’re the best things Tammy has going for it. Look, I know that this Summer, hell, this year in general, has had us drowning in comedies. You’re probably learning to be tighter with your money (Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t going to see itself three times, after all) and you need reasons beyond “that trailer made me chuckle at points” to turn up to a comedy nowadays. After all, after a certain point, they do start blending into one another. Well, Tammy’s selling point is that it’s a comedy with a legitimate heart and a sweet nature about it. The trade-off for this USP is that giant laughs are practically non-existent. Trust me, you will not leave Tammy clutching your sides from laughing too hard, cos I certainly didn’t, so if that is a pre-requisite for you going to see a comedy, you’re better off holding off for something else or seeing 22 Jump Street again.
That being said, Tammy is not bad and nor is it dull. See, although that sweetness seems to have robbed the film of giant laughs (although I’m not willing to pin that wholly on the sweetness, seeing as I am pretty sure you can actually have it both ways), it trades that for consistency. The sweet tone allows for a nice laidback feel where the actors and actresses can strike up a smooth, easy-going chemistry that enables things to be funny, even when they’re not so much. If the actors are clearly enjoying themselves, and that enjoyment is believable without being smug, then it’s going to end up leaking out of the frame and reaching the audience, making them have a good time, too. So when Tammy and Pearl end up discussing the time that Pearl had sex with an Allman brother (not Gregg, the “Brother” part of the band name) and then end up verbally jamming along to one of their songs together, I actually found myself chuckling along despite that on paper sounding just plain terrible.
And so it goes. Scenes come and go where likeable actors and actresses like Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole and Sarah Baker appear on screen and interact with either McCarthy or Sarandon and a steady stream of chuckles keep appearing. It all flows well, there’s good pacing, even if the actual plot itself is rather non-existent (although I’d argue that adds to the charm). McCarthy and Sarandon are the primary reasons why this film ends up working as well as it does. Their chemistry together is palpable, believable and almost capable enough to draw attention away from the script’s uncertainty as to who Tammy and Pearl actually are (more on that in a sec). McCarthy, who co-wrote the script, seems desperate to prove that there’s more to her than you might have gathered from Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and The Heat and she’s very good here. Although she seems as lost as the script as to who Tammy is, she plays the various different versions of her very well, resisting the urge to get boorish, excepting one sequence set to “Thrift Shop” that feels airlifted from a separate film, and nearly always managing to stay attached to the big heart that exists at the character’s centre. It’s a good performance and a better script would make this the role to break her out of the type-casting she seems to have fallen into.
Because, yeah, the real problem with Tammy, the one that keeps me from making a proper recommendation to you to go and see it, is the fact that I have no idea who Tammy is supposed to be. The script jumps about the place, making her sweet and awkward in one scene, and short-tempered and childish the next. A bit pathetic and needy one minute, just plain dumb the next. I feel like the film wants to make her realistic, a sweet person who takes bad news and setbacks poorly but just spends forever whining about it instead of actually trying to enact change and bettering herself, but it doesn’t pull it off. Instead of a singular and multi-layered three-dimensional person, Tammy feels more like a series of rejected clones from Orphan Black.
One scene she’s awkwardly trying to flirt with Mark Duplass, the next she’s pathetically sleeping outside her own motel room because her grandmother was using it for sex, the next she’s childishly knocking over gas station stands because the cashier shouted at her. Several of the various sides attempt to come together during the fast food robbery scene that’s been played in all the trailers and, whilst the scene is funny, it just serves to make Tammy feel more like somebody suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder than the ordinary girl the film wants us to see her as. One can also apply this to Pearl, the grandmother, too and be justified in feeling that way, seeing as she feels like a conflict inciter more than a character.
That being said, I did enjoy Tammy a fair bit and I’d even go so far as to say I actually liked it. Maybe it’s just the change of pace in seeing a comedy designed around being nice and sweet with nary a bad bone in its body for once (I did give a positive review to the similarly nice and sweet The Love Punch, after all), but I genuinely liked what this film was selling. I may not have laughed with every fibre of my being at any point, but there was a constant stream of chuckles and smirks and snickers and maybe even a full on laugh at one or two points (not a giant laugh, just for clarification, there is a difference). Everybody involved has great chemistry and is clearly enjoying themselves even if they aren’t saying anything funny (in less polite terms, there is a criminal wasting of Allison Janney and Sandra Oh going on here) and the whole experience is so kind-hearted and sweet that it severely dampens down the impact of the otherwise glaring problems of character inconsistency and general aimlessness.
If you’re wanting a comedy that operates at a different speed than the other ones drowning the cinema this Summer, Tammy may be your bag or what have you. It’s not essential viewing or anything, and I practically guarantee that you won’t come away feeling like your world has been revolutionised, but catching it at a matinee or cheap somewhere would honestly not be a bad use of your time. If nothing else, I’m hoping that Melissa McCarthy is willing to try coming back to these kinder types of roles in future. A better script than the one featured here and I feel like she could seriously surprise the living hell out of people by proving that she’s got more depth as an actress than people may think.
Callie Petch can ring anybody’s bell and get what they want.