Film review: Tammy turns things around in the end

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Melissa McCarthy (left) turns the story of a kooky character on the run into a heartwarming, sentimental tale in Tammy. Photo credit: Warner Brothers Melissa McCarthy (left) turns the story of a kooky character on the run into a heartwarming, sentimental tale in Tammy. Photo credit: Warner Brothers

A lack of new ideas and a surplus of sincerity are not typically good qualities in a comedy. Just think of how forced and unearned the last 20 minutes of any Happy Madison movie are: “I know I’m a slob who screwed everything up while being distractingly racist and homophobic along the way. But I mean well, kinda.”

But while Adam Sandler uses sincerity as a cheap out from his lousy movies, Tammy means well, acts well, feels good, and packs in a decent amount of genuine laughs along the way. Granted, it’s not the funniest comedy of the summer—McCarthy is playing into type for at least the second time this year. But similar to the film’s own romantic subplot, an initial lack of personal investment in these characters gradually turns into sympathy for their good intentions, eventually becoming full-on affection for having gone through this experience with them.

Due to a string of unfortunate events—a (probably-funnier-on-paper) encounter with a deer that totals her car, the ensuing lateness getting her fired, and coming home to her husband with another woman—Tammy is determined to leave her small town behind. She takes off with her stir crazy, impulsive, hard-drinking grandmother (Susan Sarandon in top comedic form) to Niagara Falls, figuring out where everything went wrong in their lives along the way. 

This may come as a surprise if you’ve seen the incredibly misleading ads and posters, showing a disheveled McCarthy doing a lousy job of robbing a fast food restaurant. This scene does indeed happen, but its tonally different from those ads, and for as little of the plot as it occupies, one has to wonder if the folks behind the campaign even saw the movie.

This discrepancy between marketing and reality may explain why it is that the lovable Tammy is getting worse advance reviews than the painfully unfunny The Heat, which promised us a dirty, angry Melissa McCarthy and delivered on that promise…and only that one. I haven’t laughed that little at a movie since Mystic River.

Tammy, meanwhile, builds off of that image of McCarthy and goes in an unexpected direction to greater effect and with a richer sense of humor, perhaps losing the people who wanted to see a different kind of movie. Where some may see a bait and switch, I see a pleasant surprise.

Tammy is also full of unexpected social victories. Weight jokes are virtually nonexistent. Female sexuality—at any age, with any orientation—is never apologized for. There is a romantic side to Tammy’s story, but her problems aren’t solved by just sleeping with the right guy instead of the wrong one. When Tammy finally does realize what she needs to do, there’s no running through the rain to give a drippy, overwritten speech or profane, cathartic screed at the villain.

The zany, gross-out moments may make the trailer, but those are generally the worst parts. And for a movie this sentimental, it is surprisingly short on manipulative, tear-jerking setups. Tammy isn’t great by any means, but it is way, way better than it should have been.

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