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The Case for Melissa McCarthy's 'Tammy'

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 8, 2014 at 3:33PM

Melissa McCarthy's movie stiffed at the box office and got lousy reviews — but it's generating some of the most interesting discussion around.
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Melissa McCarthy in "Tammy"
Melissa McCarthy in "Tammy"

Melissa McCarthy's "Tammy" — a film for which she deserves the possessory credit despite that fact that she "only" co-wrote, produced and stars in it — finished a distant second at the box office on an unexpectedly lackluster Fourth of July weekend, and its reviews haven't been much better than first-place finisher "Transformers: Age of Extinction." But the movie has its defenders, and it's generating some of the most interesting commentary of the season.

The positive notices for "Tammy" aren't especially robust — it's a movie that, at best, people admire rather than flat-out love — but they're full of appreciation for the things McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, who directed, are trying to do, even if they don't always pull it off. There's a warmth to it you don't see in many studio comedies; Rex Reed may have called the movie "sadistic," but in truth, there's not a mean-spirited moment in it. (When in doubt, McCarthy invariably makes herself the butt of the joke.) McCarthy and Falcone fill the frame with actors and body types (too) rarely seen on screen, and assemble a story of working-class desperation that critics overseas readily recognize as a political statement. It's worth noting that, while by no means monolithically so, female critics are also more kindly disposed to the movie; #NotAllMen are as openly repulsed by McCarthy's physical presence as Reed, but it seems fewer are inclined to look past it. (As Anne Thompson points out, audiences weren't crazy about it either; the movie got a dismal C- from CinemaScore.)

Reading these reviews didn't change my own lukewarm feelings for "Tammy," but it did vindicate my feeling that it's worth thinking and talking — even more so than some movies that work better on their own, less far-reaching terms.

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Melissa McCarthy is one of the finest screen actors currently working, and it's her lead role in the film "Tammy" which cements this spurious and entirely subjective accolade. She is known widely for her brash comic stylings, evidenced here on numerous occasions where the writing (partly from her own pen) demands she use her ample proportions for the purpose of a disposable visual set-piece, but rarely so she can be the butt of someone else's joke. Yet there's a hyperactivity and detail to her performance style in which she manages to make it appear like everything she says and does is improvised.


Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

McCarthy is such a force of nature — she barrels onscreen in a human hurricane of dimples and Crocs and pure, unchecked id — that she feels more genuine than almost any other woman who's been allowed (oh, show business) to carry her own major Hollywood film, besides possibly her "Bridesmaids" costar Kristen Wiig.


Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

McCarthy is very good at conveying self-hate, but a self-hate which can be alchemized, through comedy, into something gentler, more self-aware and more liable to be redeemed through love. 


Drew Hunt, Chicago Reader

Like a classic road comedy, this tends to drift from scene to scene rather than adhere to a strict plot; the movie revolves mostly around McCarthy, hilarious in her best performance to date. She cowrote the script with her husband, Ben Falcone, providing her character with a nuance absent from her other starring roles; she shows a more dramatic side, and not every joke is predicated on her weight. 


Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

It’s hard to bear any ill will toward this peculiar movie. Populated by a host of great actresses and making few concessions to any kind of four-quadrant thinking, Tammy is a movie that seems to exist mostly on its own terms. How often do we get to say that this time of year?


Matt Patches, IGN

"Tammy" is an ambitious pet project that strives for, and occasionally hits, a richer dramatic experience. The weirdest, most unexpected movie of the summer season.


Nathan Rabin, the Dissolve

For all its slapstick outrageousness, "Tammy" never lets audiences forget that it’s about two fundamentally sad, broken women at a perilous crossroads in their lives. Pearl’s alcoholism is played for laughs, but it’s also taken seriously, and throughout the film, McCarthy and Falcone’s script offers fascinating snapshots of who these women used to be, and how their relationships evolved. Sarandon’s drunk, boob-flashing granny is the most substantive role she’s played in ages, and she rises to the occasion. Reduced to broad outlines, the character might seem like a dumb caricature, but Sarandon makes her a heartbreakingly real human being.  


Ian Buckwalter, NPR

"Tammy" never quite manages to find that balance between the sweet and the smartass the way "Bridesmaids" did, nor does the mismatched buddy dynamic between McCarthy and Sarandon ever approach the success of "The Heat." But eventually the film does manage to find its own awkward way, with enough effective and less desperate jokes to smooth things over after the rocky start


Manohla Dargis, New York Times

Tammy’s journey, as they like to say in movieland, is into self-worth. Yet the far more interesting trip here, at least until her self-actualization kicks in, is through an America of lousy jobs, tyrannical bosses, nickel-and-diming poverty and real-looking women. Tammy drives an old Toyota Corolla and works in a fast-food joint where, she discloses in a seemingly throwaway moment, she had to buy her own name tag. It’s the kind of nice detail, like the plus-size extras who are scattered in the background, that Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Falcone slip in repeatedly and that seem to be building toward something greater than the ornamental.


Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed

It’s a film that’s made to showcase its star’s remarkable ability to make a hairpin turn from blustery fearlessness right into poignant plaintiveness. The amount of time it focuses on the latter is bound to disappoint anyone expecting something rowdier, but as the first movie McCarthy’s had a hand in creating herself, it speaks to the kind of role she wants to play. Tammy’s rough, abrasive, impulsive, selfish, and immature, but she’s not a cartoon or the comic relief — goddamn right, she’s the heroine.


Eric Kohn, Indiewire

The movie is a righteous attempt to put an middle-America antihero devoid of class privilege front and center. Whenever it foregrounds that feat, it hints at a smarter movie. Even when it falters, "Tammy" points in a promising direction for a genre that rarely reaches its potential in the mainstream. 


Teo Bugbee, Daily Beast

Melissa McCarthy wrote "Tammy," she co-produced it, and she starred. And if you can see past the Rex Reed horror of looking at a woman who isn’t trying to be beautiful, it’s not hard to see why the role might be a desirable one, even if the movie itself is misguided. As Tammy or Megan in "Bridesmaids" or Mullins in "The Heat" or even Diana in "The Identity Thief," Melissa McCarthy is given the opportunity to play women who see the bullshit that the world has to offer them, and who refuse to comply.

Melissa McCarthy’s characters don’t play by the rules and hope that they’ll make it — they blow up the rules if that’s what it takes to make themselves room. And so does she.


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