Melissa McCarthy has become one of the most polarizing comediennes in Hollywood. The actress first gained notoriety for her supporting role on "Gilmore Girls," but it wasn't until she took on raunchy roles in films like "Bridesmaids" that she became a household name. She's followed that up with a string of hits that have left critics questioning if she is a one-trick pony, playing large, obnoxious ladies who never met a curse word that they didn't like. Her new film "Tammy" is being marketed as more from her usual bag of tricks, but there is more than meets the eye with the new comedy.
The first thing to notice about "Tammy," as the credits roll, is that McCarthy is helping to call the shots. The film is directed by her husband Ben Falcone (who also has a small role as her boss), and the pair co-wrote the script together. That script finds McCarthy cast as a rough-around-the-edges, fast food worker from a small town named Tammy, who is experiencing the worst day of her life. On the same day that she gets fired from her job -- after hitting and being hit by a deer -- she finds out her husband is cheating on her with the neighbor. Seeking to run away from her problems, Tammy is forced to bring her grandmother Pearl in order to make her escape.
What's interesting is that on television McCarthy has always played reserved, level-headed characters who are the opposite of her larger-than-life big screen personas. Now that she is the star, co-writer, and producer, she has plenty of input on the final product and seems to be ready to merge the worlds. She is, however, savvy enough to know that you also have to give the audience what they want to see. Therein is the fine line that the film tries to walk. Throughout the film, the titular character unevenly blossoms into someone new. The "Tammy" audiences get to know during the opening scenes as she sings along to a boom box in the passenger seat of her Corolla, isn't the same character you leave onscreen when the credits roll. The character arc jerks all over the place, depending on the scene. But it is almost as if just giving her a makeover and an invitation to a lesbian Fourth of July party is enough to shake some social graces and sense into Tammy.
By now, it's cliche to talk about the dearth of films being marketed to women. It's been proven time and again that there is an audience for these films when they are good. While "Tammy" is very estrogen-centric, the difference is that the film isn't aimed solely at women -- however, the women are the ones who steal the spotlight throughout the film. In a stroke of casting genius, original bad girl road tripper and "Thelma and Louise" star Susan Sarandon plays Tammy's boozy, brash and over-the-top, diabetic grandmother who is funding their trip. Frequent scene stealer Sarah Baker ("The Campaign" and TV's "Go On") is more than game for the handful of scenes that she is given.
For his directorial debut, Falcone knows what he is doing. He keeps the film humming along without ever letting the pace falter, turning in a trim 96-minute running time. As a comedian himself, Falcone also knows when to give the punchlines breathing room, and his familiarity with McCarthy also helps in reining her in from some the grandiose antics that she can get into at times. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as the scripts get bigger and more complex.
"Tammy" offers the audience a better showcase for McCarthy than just fat jokes and a dirty mouth. By the end of the film, some of the more physical comedic set-ups feel gratuitous and cheap. Falcone and McCarthy have given the film enough backbone to forgive this occasional backslide, because by this point you've already invested in Tammy herself. While it's doubtful that the actress will ever completely leave her raunchy persona behind, hopefully this will be a gateway to seeing different sides of Melissa McCarthy on the big screen.