What if Louise of “Thelma & Louise” survived driving into the Grand Canyon and had a bratty granddaughter played by Melissa McCarthy somewhere down the line? You’d probably get something along the lines of “Tammy.” In the film, Susan Sarandon finds herself going along for another offbeat road trip full of crazy shenanigans, none of which take an especially dark turn like in “Thelma & Louise.” Sarandon is only the co-pilot on this particular road trip, however, playing second banana to McCarthy as the title character.
Tammy is a bit like the woman we saw McCarthy portray in “Identity Thief,” but with a much more lovable side to her. She’s tacky, selfish, whiny, and refuses to take responsibility for all the problems in her life. Despite all of Tammy’s blatant flaws, you can’t help but adore her from the opening scene all the way through. Tammy has hit rock bottom, running over a deer with her crummy car, finding out that her husband is having an affair, and getting fired by her discourteous boss all in one day. She rushes down the street to her mother (Allison Janney), saying that she’s had it. Like a bitter child threatening to run away, Tammy decides to pack up and leave town. Sarandon’s Grandma Pearl insists on coming along, providing Tammy with a car and travel funds.
From there, Tammy and Pearl set out to see Niagara Falls. Down the road, they have a series of misadventures involving jet skis, a lesbian barbecue, hookups with strangers, and armed robbery at a fast food restaurant where Sarah Baker has a very funny cameo. Of course a road trip movie isn’t really about the destination or even the stops along the way. It all relies on the dynamic between the main characters. McCarthy and Sarandon don’t quite hit the same mark as Steve Martin and John Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in “Midnight Run,” or Sarandon and Geena Davis in “Thelma & Louise” for that matter. But the relationship between the two never hits a wrong note, ranging from quite hilarious to quite meaningful.
“Tammy” also works in some solid supporting work from Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, and Dan Aykroyd just to name a few. But the film mainly belongs to McCarthy, who has been on a role as of late. Even when she’s given mediocre material, McCarthy always throws herself into any role that comes her way. While McCarthy is willing to do whatever it takes to get a laugh, she never settles for just looking foolish or trying to shock the audience. She respects her characters and makes us laugh with them, not at them. The opposite can ironically be said about McCarthy’s cousin, Jenny McCarthy, who is willing to put herself out there, but has rarely been able to create a human being anyone could care about.
The film was directed by McCarthy’s real life husband, Ben Falone, who also co-stars and co-wrote the script with McCarthy. Falone has had a number of great bit parts in McCarthy’s other movies, most notably the air marshal in “Bridesmaids” and the guy at the bar in “The Heat.” He clearly knows how to bring out the best in McCarthy, whether it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera. It’s actually high time that Falone got a leading role in one of his wife’s movies. Until we see that star-crossed romantic comedy, “Tammy” offers more than enough of McCarthy’s comedic genius to hold us over.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.