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Review: Melissa McCarthy > Tammy

An slightly abridged version of this review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

One of the best developments of movie advertising this past decade is the use of single scenes as teasers. Remember when The Devil Wears Prada used the opening sequence, fashion magazine peons freaking out about the arrival of Miranda Priestley as a perfect hook? Do you want to see more? Yes Ma’am! 

Tammy employed a similar tactic at first giving you a peak at the actual movie instead of a greatest hits montage. The first tease was a single scene of Melissa McCarthy clumsily robbing a fast-food restaurant in a dumb paper bag mask: too large to clear the counter, too blind to lock a storage room door, too sweet to be threatening. “You want some pies? You want pies” It’s a very funny sequence promising a slapstick filled comedy about a bumbling amateur criminal. Melissa McCarthy is currently on top of Hollywood’s food chain after three consecutive smash hits (Bridesmaid, Identity Thief and The Heat) the first and last of which are top-notch comedies, continually funny, bracingly rude and totally rewatchable. 

Unfortunately, the robbery proves to be Tammy’s single best bit and, oops, we’ve already seen the whole thing. [More...]

Tammy was written and directed by Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy’s real life husband who also co-starred with her in Bridesmaids as the Federal Agent she seduces with her surprising flexibility. But McCarthy’s comedy isn’t as nimble or fresh this time. She’s repeating herself and needs stronger material or duet partners fighting for top billing. She can still pull a laugh from thin air without any jokes around (part of the problem because it doesn’t encourage actual jokes to be written). But why does the movie borrow character arc and plot elements from Identity Thief? A car radio scene and a prison releases scene are direct lifts. That’s a terrible movie. If you’re going to steal from yourself, go for the good stuff!  

Tammy is a better film than that, but it’s not particular funny and struggles with tone. There’s too much real pain (alcoholism, failed marriages, childhood trauma, illness) to laugh from the half-hearted intermittent attempts at making light of them. Within the first reel Tammy has lost her job, her marriage and her car (her dignity gone before the opening credits). Soon she’s on the road with her randy grandmother (Susan Sarandon) despite her mother’s (Alison Janney) protests. But her grandmother has just as many unfunny problems. The casting of the three generations is bizarre - were they all pregnant in grade school? Sarandon is such a well preserved beauty that a gray wig and prosthetic cankles ain’t going to cut it. 

The actors outside of Sarandon and McCarthy have almost nothing to do.  The peripheral cast seems to have been chosen for their familiar faces more than any need to have other characters in the movie: there's Toni Collette with nothing to do again. Here's Allison Janney just to look on disapprovingly. There's Kathy Bates in the Kathy Bates role. Hi Sandra Oh. You put your hands on people's shoulders sympathetically so well!

When the fast food robbery scene finally arrives it’s sandwiched between a health scare and a lesbian Fourth of July party which is curiously played totally straight (no pun intended). It's true. The lesbian party has almost no jokes, or at least not memorable ones, a perfect example of the movies tendency to miss multiple opportunities for laugh lines. Sometimes a scene will be humming along with a mild chuckle as you wait for the punchline and it just never comes. The party ends with a mean-spirited bit of drama and the robbery is way less funny in its new mildly sour context within a movie that is as terrible as Tammy herself at applying itself and sticking with a plan. It makes half-hearted stabs at everything: slapstick comedy, sweet romance, family drama, character study, and women on the lam fun. 

The surest measure of a comedy is how many jokes are left out of the trailers. Not to get all stuffy and corporate about it but in pre-production it couldn’t hurt to earmark the scenes you plan to use in trailers and then whip out this handy flow chart. The box before filming says “Can you fit all your best jokes into the trailer?” If your answer is “Yes” it loops you back around to the start: “Write a funny movie”

If all of your best gags can fit into two to five minutes of pre-release promotional material, what are you going to do with the other 90? Asking for a joke a minute is a pretty low bar for a star as talented as Melissa McCarthy to clear. It’s certainly lower than that fast food counter and Tammy manages that on her third attempt. If only she wanted laughs as much as she wanted those pies.

Grade: C
MVP: Melissa McCarthy obviously but she's better when she has to wrestle with a formidable scene partner who also wants the laughs (think Sandra Bullock or a Kristen Wiig) than as a solo act. But mild surprise: Mark DuPlass makes a surprisingly plausible romantic comedy lead, believably attracted to McCarthy despite his initial resistance though this attraction mystifies him.
Oscar Chances: No. We always wish comedies had a better shot at gold statues... but only when they're great.

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Reader Comments (18)

totally agree with the review. I laughed maybe 4 times... not enough. McCarthy is certainly cashing in on her Bridesmaids' stardom. But if she continues with these unfunny comedies she'll burn out in a couple of years.

Funnily enough last year I thought Wiig - post Girl Most Likely & Mitty - has squandered her Bridesmaids' goodwill. Now, after seeing Hateship Loveship, I think she's going for longevity, trying to prove her versatility as an actress.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

I agree on Melissa repeating herself,soon everone will tire of the schtick a la 80's Midler and 90's Goldberg.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I was watching some old episodes of Gilmore Girls the other day and Melissa was so wonderful in it. One of my favourite things about that show (and it was one of my favourites as a teenager) is how they never, not once, made any comments on Sookie's (Melissa's character) weight. She was a whole person - she had a job and relationships and a character, and those defined her, not what her body looked like. So it makes me SO sad that now that everyone can see what a fabulous actress Melissa is, it's only through horrible movies that are made up of 'fat jokes' and grossness. She deserves so much better. I'm one of the three people in the world who absolutely hated Bridesmaids, and it was mostly because I can't find "look at her, she's FAT, look at her pooping in the sink, only a fattie would do that, Rose Byrne's character would never, HAHAHA" funny. Identity Thief was disgusting. I only liked The Heat because I went in expecting it to be horrible. I want to support Melissa but I can't sit through the same thing again.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Anna, I can't agree with you more. I loved Gilmore Girls. And the show didn't only make Sookie a fully-realized character defined by who she was, not what she looked like, it did that for all of its characters. I have always despised comedy based on someone being perceived as fat; that's about as lazy as writing can get.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTommy

I'll admit I laughed out loud a few times... it was what it was. But a few points...

1. Melissa seems very one-note, I feel like she's always playing the same character with the same vocal patterns. I guess that's why she's had success though, audiences can depend on her being consistent.
2. Yes WTF is up with Toni Colette... between this and Hitchcock, where the roles pitched as being bigger and then edited down?? Why would she accept this role?! It was nothing...

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Toni has mouths to feed and likes to work She also comes from a background that says there are no small parts, just small actors. I'm disappointed she doesn't get to do more, but at least she hasn't disappeared altogether.

I appreciate McCarthy's talent, but I cannot watch "Fat people being awful" movies.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Wow allison janney seems to be on a roll these days, especially in three generation moms kind of thing

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

I'd have liked to have seen Toni in Mccarthy's part.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

They say it's a comedy, but a movie that underuses Sarandon, Bates, Colette, Janney and Oh sounds like a tragedy to me.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Okay this whole Melissa McCarthy is great fad needs to end now. Washington Post wouldn't even review this movie and instead spent 11 column inches explaining why it's absolutely terrible and then refused to even give it a half star.

Please, allow me to summarize: Melissa McCarthy as Melissa McCarthy in a Melissa McCarthy movie where Melissa McCarthy spends 90 minutes getting out Melissa McCarthy'ed by Melissa McCarthy's character who is actually just a caricature of Melissa McCarthy doing her best Melissa McCarthy impression. Kathy Bates is in the movie briefly and the only thing positive that can be said about Tammy is that it takes away Waterboy as the worst movie that Kathy Bates has been in.

Seriously though, it's ridiculous, how many terrible movies does she have to make, that absolutely flop before people realize that she's over rated and the only way to make a 90 minute fat joke work is to sit down and watch four episodes of Roseanne.

Even this review, the title of which is Melissa McCarthy > Tammy. NO SHE'S NOT! Her agent got lucky and got her a spot in a movie with 3 real comediennes, but that doesn't make her one herself. Jeff Daniels isn't a comedian and neither is McCarthy. The difference being after Daniels' successful comedy movie he went on to make movies that didn't tank.

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

I thought it was funnier than you did, but the movie really struggled to find a tone. Sometimes it seemed to aim for Bridesmaids' blend of extreme humor, social criticism and poignancy, and at other times, it seemed to just want to be a laugh-a-minute comedy like The Heat or Anchorman. Honestly, both types of movies are very hard to do well, and I doubt McCarthy and her husband have the chops as screenwriters to pull either off. The producers or someone at the studio should have stepped in and demanded professional rewrites on the script.

McCarthy is a very talented actress and comedian (just watch her SNL hosting gigs). But even though she's a huge box office star, I doubt she's getting offered a lot of offers beyond Tammy/identity Thief-type roles; casting directors, producers and directors just won't consider someone who looks like McCarthy for most material. Maybe her performance in St. Vincent will open up the door for her a bit.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Early reports made this seem like McCarthy's first major foray into drama, or at least biting satire. I'm disappointed that isn't the case because she's actually a fine actress who happens to have good comedic timing. Anyone who doubts this should check out John August's The Nines. It's not a perfect film, by any stretch, but it shows what she can do when given a nuanced character that isn't simply a conduit for fat jokes.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

"Seriously though, it's ridiculous, how many terrible movies does she have to make, that absolutely flop before people realize..."

Matthew her movies don't flop, they have all been hits. The Heat and Identity Thief both did great. Looks like Tammy won't be huge this weekend judging by the early receipts I just looked up but it's already made its modest budget back.

But I agree with everything Nathaniel said about Tammy, it's not great and wastes a lot of goodwill. I really hoped she'd come up with something better for herself than what she had been handed with Identity Thief.

I am looking forward to her working with Paul Feig a third time although I hope that spy comedy isn't just a bunch of "ha ha watch the fat lady try to run" jokes.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Tammy never seemed like the same character from scene to scene, and I'm not sure if it was the script of McCarthy herself. She has a tendency to ALWAYS go for a joke, and it didn't feel like that approach really suited the character as she was presented in the early scenes. But worst of all, even worse than wasting an entire cast's worth of incredibly talented actresses, Tammy offered not one single belly laugh. Instead, it seemed content to just go for polite chuckles, which is never what you want in a comedy. I'm sure there are worse ways to spend two hours than watching Tammy, as it wasn't exactly an unpleasant experience, but both the audience and McCarthy (and Sarandon and Janney and Bates and Colette and Oh, etc. etc.) deserve better.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

The previews for this look really bad. I hope McCarthy takes a different direction next time around. "St. Vincent" seems like a good step.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterZach

There is nothing talented about playing a fat dirty chick. That's all she does. She's disgusting and can't act for shit. Her delivery is the worst. Her claim to fame was a show where everyone gets to laugh at two fat people fucking and a movie where she shits in some place a person is not supposed to shit.

July 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Oh this one was baaaaad. I'm puzzled why and how so many acclaimed actors signed on to this nonsense. Melissa McCarthy deserves far better. And she wrote this for herself! Utterly baffling and sad at the same time.

July 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

See the funny part is where all of you McCarthy apologists say over and over that she deserves a better role even though she wrote this one for herself! So basically this is an hour and a half long stand up comedy show with extremely talented cameos that can't get a single laugh.

Someone mentioned that if you don't find her funny to check out her SNL hosting. Here I'll save you the trouble. The best MM snl sketch is fifty times worse than the worst Jimmy Fallon SNL sketch, and that is really hard to do when every sketch JF just stares into the camera and laughs at all of the jokes that he can't even get through.

JA I can assure you that the spy movie won't be two hours of watch the fat chick run jokes. It'll be an hour of watch the fat chick run joke, half an hour of watch the fat chick wheeze and give away her cover jokes, followed by a final half hour of watch the fat chick make the villain who is prepared to kill millions uncomfortable by describing how she wants him to roll her up in flour and aim for the wet spot.

July 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

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