I love Melissa McCarthy. She rescued Brides from banality, made me laugh out loud in Identity Theft and cheer (again aloud) in Heat. I think she’s the best comedian to come down the pike in a long time. Her comedic timing is perfect; from pause to instant rebound she never misses a beat. She even does slapstick well – a very , very difficult thing to pull off. But what really gets me is her intelligence. It shines through her work, informing and enhancing every move. On top of that, the woman can act. She can turn on a dime from bathos to true pathos adding an unexpected dollop of gravitas which engages the viewer in reality even in the midst of suspension of disbelief.
That’s why I went to see Tammy – though to tell the truth, the preview wasn’t that inviting and I’ve seen scripts created for a specific actor that did not turn out well. But Tammy plays to all McCarthy’s strengths. Perhaps her genius stems from an ability to embrace the absurdity of the human condition without bitterness or cynicism. Her characters always come equipped with compassion. I always like them and they always ring true.
This coming-of-age story holds a mirror to our faces of just what a refusal to do the work of maturation looks like. Tammy takes the inner, ghastly, ego-centric mess of denial, self-pity, rage and despair inherent in an unexamined life and turns it inside out to make it visible. Just to make sure we get the point we have Susan Sarandon (playing Pearl, Tammy’s grandmother) as aging sidekick, suffering the same messy interior life, but with a more savvy and beautiful outside. Depicting them side by side the movie says, “Listen up people, there’s hundreds of us running around like this pretending to be grown-up without doing our homework – this is what it looks like.”
Tammy replays Joe Campbell’s mythic journey to reclaim the self. Being everywoman (and man)’s story, it never fails to fascinate. It’s a necessary rite of passage that can take place at any stage of life and may be repeated more than once. Here we see Tammy and Pearl at opposite ends of their lives, both embarking on a voyage of self-discovery. However, heroines and heroes never undertake the adventure completely for themselves; they must return to the community with a gift to share. That gift is relationship – the ability to engage, to connect, to respond and reciprocate.
Hats off to writers Falcone and McCarthy for underlining the importance of relationship and honoring the contribution women bring to its implementation. One of the great things to come out of the women’s movement is a the recognition, understanding and study of friendship among women. I love this movie because it depicts as normal the way women so often offer each other hospitality, help and honesty as a matter of course.
Tammy touches on serious cultural issues, i.e. alcoholism, the dreary distasteful proliferation of fast food, our pernicious sense of entitlement, but never forgets it’s a comedy operating on many different levels. It makes it some subtle inside jokes by casting Susan Sarandon in a road trip full of escalating criminal escapades reminiscent of Thelma and Louise or having Kathy Bates turn Fixer and quote directly from Pulp Fiction, but much of the movie is painted in broad flamboyant strokes reminiscent of vaudeville and silent picture comedies. For that kind of humor to succeed with me it has to be perfectly timed and consistently funny. This is Melissa McCarthy’s forte and with the help of husband, fellow writer and director Ben Falcone she doesn’t fail to deliver.