I couldn't help but think of Bridesmaids as the credits rolled on Melissa McCarthy's co-screenwriting debut with her husband/director Ben Falcone. If you'll recall that giant hit of a movie featured McCarthy as the crass and larger-than-life Meghan. She stole the show every time she was on screen but what really did it for me was the moment which she dropped the clown facade and talked one-on-one with Kristen Wiig's character. That was a truly human moment that elevated the film from great to fantastic. The glimmers of dramatic prowess have been showing in her performances as of late and when poignant moments were needed she has delivered. Soon after she returns to playing the persona she is now best known for: crass and prone to pratfalls.
Why did I keep thinking back to that? Tammy is the sort of character that McCarthy can really breathe life into. She is a slovenly fast-food worker with a crap marriage stuck in a small Illinois town. The first twenty minutes of the movie is simply a showcase for McCarthy doing her thing. The problem is this: its done in a vacuum. Her other roles, albeit not lead ones, have allowed her to work with other strong personalities on-screen beside her. They contrasted her style and made her work all the better for it. Here she is doing her shtick and it had me kind of worried that the movie was already going off the rails.
First-time director Ben Falcone's (also co-writer) lack of experience behind the camera shows here but, thankfully, things do get back on track once the supporting cast starts to settle in. The movie resets itself, in a way, and becomes more an ensemble road-trip movie. Very Thelma & Louise in its way though far more uneven overall.
Tammy, for all her bad decisions, has to have her life fall apart for things to get rolling. Once the road trip gets going she's placed in close quarters with her alcoholic (and diabetic) Grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon). Sarandon really isn't much older than McCarthy but whatever. The two play off each other extremely well as Sarandon's far more laid back manner gels wonderfully with the more over-the-top antics of McCarthy. Pearl straddled the line between just being another old people behaving badly trope and being something far better. The chemistry between the two really elevated the film and delivered more laughs than I expected.
The ensemble bit really smooths out some of the rough edges (not all of them but some) as supporting turns from Kathy Bates (as Pearl's rich lesbian cousin Lenore) and Mark Duplass (love interest to Tammy) ground the film enough that it isn't just reduced to Melissa McCarthy swearing and falling down. I wish Duplass had been given a bit more to do here though he served his purpose quite well. Toni Collette as the mistress to Tammy's husband, though, was criminally underused here. Such a talented actress and she gets three lines? I get the focus is on Tammy but damn really?
There are some genuinely funny set-pieces as all road-trip movies are more about scene-to-scene movement as opposed to more traditional narrative as is the case with the fast food robbery. It is far better than the trailers let on I promise. The biggest problem comes when moments of poignancy are attempted. Melissa McCarthy can pull it off and the people around her are very capable of it as well but the scripting and Falcone's direction made those times come off as a bit hollow.