Big Girl Lost
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
In “Tammy,” Ben Falcone’s irreverent, anything goes road comedy, Mellissa McCarthy as the title screw-up more or less entertainingly asserts that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. Whereas raunchy free-for-alls like “Old School” (2003) and “The Hangover” (2009) have essentially filled the vacuum once so splendidly occupied by the great screwball comedies, they are mostly male dominated. Now, McCarthy proves she can abash, blunder and cuss as well as any guy. She is, as the French say, a piece of work.
Continuing in that vein, dubious honor or not, she evokes the je ne sais quoi required to be humorously unkempt, disorganized and clueless. But more importantly, she is oddly endearing, albeit in that loveable loser context paradigmatically championed by the late, great John Candy. No matter what slings and arrows, hardships or inequities are tossed her way, whether through innocence or ignorance, she is convinced of her rectitude.
The indignant stubbornness that blames everyone but herself for her bad fortune makes it difficult to root for her at first. Yet in time, owing to your greater humanity, she grows on you, inveigling you to add a new card to your index of political correctness. Part and parcel of the package is what is never mentioned. But it’s there all the same: the proverbial 200 lb.+ comedienne in the room.
Myopically unfair as it may be, the overweight soul, from Oliver Hardy to Dom DeLuise, who made his physique a cause célèbre in Anne Bancroft’s “Fatso” (1980), has engraved his bittersweet stereotype in American film. However, as we now face an epidemic of obesity, the connotation is complicated. Rather than the victimized outsider, Tammy doubtlessly strikes a chord with and wins the empathy of fellow travelers.
But it’s more the greater human folly we sigh about and laugh at when, after her car blows up, she loses her job at the quick burger joint and then learns her husband is cheating on her. There she despondently sits at the curb, munching on some salvaged sliders. Hmm, methinks this calls for a bonding excursion with granny.
Now, while the dimension of characterization is usually not as important in farce as it is in drama, a gnawing inconsistency to Tammy wreaks havoc with the amateur psychologist in us. When she trudges next door to her parents’ home petitioning for funds to hightail it from the scene of her oppressive failure, we can’t help but note that mom (Allison Janney) is a well spoken, pretty much refined lady. Tammy is crude and uneducated. No explanation is made…no reference to bad peer pressure, etc., etc.
Continuing the strange incongruity, though grandma, played by Susan Sarandon, is much more of a Peck’s bad girl than Tammy, she is nonetheless intelligent in that worldly way, and shocked that her granddaughter hasn’t the faintest idea who Mark Twain is.
I don’t mean to nitpick like Sid, the engineer beau who ruined every movie for my big sister Ann by analyzing it to death. I hated Sid. But it bears noting that filmmaker Ben Falcone wants to have it both ways. When convenient, the movie is nonsensical in that “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) style. And when he wishes to pluck a few heartstrings, out come the violins.
While such fast and loose direction won’t tilt the Earth off its axis, there’s no logical progression between modes. It’s like giving the answer to a geometry problem without showing the work.
Thus an especially liberal suspension of disbelief is required if one wishes to sit back and enjoy the seriocomic odyssey pursued by Tammy and grandma Pearl, Susan Sarandon’s licentious golden ager whose alcoholism could put her into a coma at any moment. Oh, don’t worry. Not to spoil things, but the studio knows you’d be just slightly bummed out if Tammy ended her days on skid row.
This is the movies, and as such there’s a tacit promise: There will be an epiphany. Hence, further advancing the subtextual primer on tolerance, the duo’s journey ultimately takes them to a place of reason and order, a beautiful sprawling manse where doth reside an oracle in the mortal form of Pearl’s rich lesbian cousin, Lenore, played by Kathy Bates. Let the healing begin.
The implicit, pie-in-the sky thought is that somewhere rolling around in Tammy’s gray matter, just waiting to fall into place and work its magic, is the good DNA possessed by Pearl and Lenore. It just needs to be jostled a tad.
What’s amazing is that, while most tales of personal revelation regale of a life altering wisdom, Tammy is suddenly smarter, too. But what’s more amazing, and a little shameful to admit in light of my foaming at the paradoxes, is that none of “Tammy’s” flaws kept me from laughing.
“Tammy,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Ben Falcone and stars Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates. Running time: 96 minutes