'Tammy' review: A surprisingly poignant comedy

Melissa McCarthy in Tammy. (Courtesy)

Melissa McCarthy in Tammy. (Courtesy)

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

Melissa McCarthy is at her best when she is vulnerable and sassy-sweet, not when she is nasty and cruel. That is what makes her new movie Tammy better than either Identity Thief or The Heat, although both those 2013 box office hits obviously have their fans.

In Tammy, McCarthy’s skills as a comedy screenwriter and as a comedic actress are better served. The movie has a surprising poignancy as well as capers, crude hilarity and plenty of nuttiness. It was also co-written and directed by McCarthy’s husband, actor Ben Falcone. He makes his directorial debut here and does a decent job of it.

It was Falcone who pitched the idea to McCarthy after he had a dream. She plays Tammy, a big, sloppy, mid-American loser who is having a bad day: Her car gets totalled when she hits a buck deer on the road (the buck survives!); she loses her job at a fast food outlet for being late and mouthy; and she gets home early to find her sleazeball husband (Nat Faxon) making a romantic dinner for their neighbour (Toni Collette).

It is time to get out of town. Tammy the flick quickly turns into a road movie (which was shot mostly in North Carolina). Tammy the character has to turn to her alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) as a car companion because she is the one with the vehicle and the money they need. Grannie wants to head to Niagara Falls. What the hell! Off they go.

McCarthy and/or Sarandon get up to all kinds of shenanigans, including jet skiing, drunken debauchery, squabbling, country and western clubbing, armed robbery, jail time, medical emergencies, romantic interludes and a huge Fourth of July party held by a gung-ho lesbian couple (Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh).

As in most road movies, the two protagonists in the car push each other to extremes while creating a unique bond that will change both their lives.

The pairing of McCarthy and Sarandon at first seems odd, given that the age difference falls short of logic. While Sarandon is 67, she certainly does not look it, even though she is “aged” for this movie with grey-white hair colour. McCarthy is 43, but she does not look her age either. So the real-life gap still makes them look more like a mother-daughter team.

No matter, they have the comedy chops. Sarandon plays boozy-crazy rather well, because she plays serious as well as funny and you feel for both her and for McCarthy where there is damage done. McCarthy’s performance is a perfect match because, even with the profanity and insanity, there is heart and soul in the character.

Key cameos in Tammy include Allison Janney and Dan Aykroyd as McCarthy’s parents, with Gary Cole and Mark Duplass as a father-and-son team who figure into the story in a significant way.

As a road movie, Tammy fits snugly into the template. Even the tagline on the movie’s poster tells us what to expect: “She hit the road. The road hit back.” In McCarthy’s world, her best comedy comes with a little pain and suffering.

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