Tammy: Where’s Debbie Reynolds When You Need Her?

Every woman I know who is even slightly skinny-disabled adores Melissa McCarthy, and why not? She comes off as warm, joyful, and totally comfortable with her poundage in all of her print and TV interviews.  Off-screen she’s a role model and an inspiration. And on-screen, she has perfect comic timing, a puppy dog’s smile that emerges now and then from her gruffest characters, plus a huge dose of self-respect. Hollywood probably hasn’t had a box office star like her since Marie Dressler in the Thirties, one who has so upended what a star should be. McCarthy might just be the anti-Julia Roberts.

Now first the good news:  In the trailer for the forthcoming October release St. Vincent, which stars Bill Murray, we see glimpses of McCarthy playing a genuine human being. Yes, there’s much more to Melissa than a few bravura comic performances and a flat situation comedy (Mike and Molly) where the laugh track seems to have a gun to its head: “Chortle now or die!”

Now the bad news: Tammy, McCarthy’s latest, is a laugh-forsaken muddle. Like a bad Adam Sandler offering (and yes, there are good ones), McCarthy and her spouse Ben Falcone have written a tale that is inconsistent in tone, character development, and treatment of the plus-sized. Worst of all is Falcone’s direction in this, his feature debut. He is clearly to comedy what cholera is to a Sweet Sixteen party.

The picture begins with the eponymous Tammy (McCarthy) being a stereotypical, illiterate “fat” mess.  (Imagine John Belushi in Animal House donning Kotex instead of a jockstrap.) Our heroine, while stuffing her face and searching for ChapStick, is driving her way to work at a burger place when she hits a deer to which she winds up giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Arriving late at her job and looking a mess, she’s immediately fired by her boss (Falcone), but not before shaking her dandruff on a tray of burgers.

Downcast, she returns home early only to discover her husband is having an affair with her thin next-door neighbor (a bland Toni Collette).

Now really upset, Tammy grasps a few belongings and tromps two doors down to where her family resides, who don’t want her either. Mom (a dull Allison Janney) even refuses to lend her daughter the family car so she can find herself. Grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon), an alcoholic diabetic who once slept with an Allman Brother, to the rescue. If Tammy agrees to take her along, Pearl will supply her auto and over $6000 for the journey.

What follows are a jet ski mishap, an apple-pie robbery, a lesbian Fourth of July celebration, the finding of true love, and a bonding between relatives who started out with little respect for each other.

The problem here is that McCarthy and Falcone can’t decide if they want to create a gross-out comedy or a touching dramedy. Believe me, a close-up of the swollen feet of a diabetic who refuses to take her medicine is not a laugh riot.

Additionally, the casting of usually superb actors in tiny roles where they add nothing is a bit disappointing. (Sandra Oh, I would have lent you some cash if you needed it.) As for Ms. Sarandon, this is the only time I can recall where she hasn’t classed up a picture. This premiere thespian, with the possible exception of The Rocky Horror Show, is not made for broad comedy.

But the problem really must lie with Falcone, who neither knows how to structure a full-length feature or direct actors. Michael Sale’s flatfooted editing doesn’t help either, but maybe he had nothing much to work with.

In the end we can only hope Falcone doesn’t do to McCarthy’s career what Renny Harlin did to his wife Geena Davis’s. Shipwreck it. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.

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