Melissa McCarthy is the leading lady cinema needs, but she’s not necessary the one it wants. Co-written by McCarthy and her director husband Ben Falcone, Tammy (2014) is a Hollywood road movie for the neglected women of cinema. McCarthy plays the titular Tammy, a churlish underdog who’s wilfully unaware of her limitations, believing the world is against her – and given the inequality faced by women in Hollywood, you’d be forgiven for agreeing with her. Recently fired from her job in a fast food restaurant after a traffic collision with a deer makes her late for work, Tammy’s day gets even worse when she arrive home early to discover her husband enjoying a romantic meal with their neighbour.
Heartbroken, Tammy packs her bags and heads three doors down the road to stay with her mother. However, what she gets instead is the opportunity to go on road trip to Niagara Falls with her boozy grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon). What initially looks to be a journey of self-discovery soon unfurls into a series of transgressions, with Tammy’s bad luck and her grandmother’s heavy drinking formulating a ruinous cocktail of filial home truths and a series of run-ins with the law. Tammy veers wildly down the central reservation of the road trip genre, unsure whether it wants to be an out-and-out slapstick comedy or a smaller, more intimate character drama. After a rather mechanical and stilted exposition, Falcone’s film thankfully kicks into gear once McCarthy and Sarandon hit the open road.
McCarthy is her usual livewire presence, an unstoppable comedic force who dominates the action whenever on screen. Sarandon, herself no stranger to wild road-trips after her iconic role in Thelma and Louise provides a far more poised and restrained performance, throwing herself into the role and clearly relishing the opportunity to get back behind the wheel. Whilst the paltry 24-year age gap between the pair means the authenticity of the grandmother-granddaughter relationship is far-fetched, the dynamic chemistry shared between the two turns an otherwise flat and formulaic script into something that spits and splutter with moments of ingratiating spontaneity. Yet considering that the film was written by McCarthy and her husband, the lacklustre and rather timid nature of the film’s script is at times somewhat confounding.
Lacking the sharpness and wit we’ve come to expect from McCarthy’s previous performances, the film too often relies on the clumsy physicality of her repertoire. Despite its imperfections, Tammy remains a refreshing comedy fuelled almost entirely by compelling female performances. Even more spectacular is that we have a mainstream comedy film where men merely occupy the peripheries whilst the leading ladies deviate from the Hollywood norm. Whilst some of Tammy’s jokes might fall flat and the film’s script lacks the strength of its conviction, this tale of cross-generational female sisterhood is an enjoyable change of scenery in a the male dominated landscape of character-driven comedies.