A WINSOME AND CHARMING LITTLE MOVIE
Melissa McCarthy Isn’t Reinventing The Wheel, But This Is A Smooth Ride Nonetheless
DIRECTOR: BEN FALCONE/2014
I think Hollywood has a hard time figuring out what to do with Melissa McCarthy. There seems to be an effort to try and sell her as a sort of female version of Chris Farley—even a lot of the buzz for her breakout supporting role in Bridesmaids (for which she was Oscar-nominated) seemed to center around a scene in which she pooped in a sink. Similarly, the marketing for Tammy has mostly focused on a brief sequence in which she dances to the song “Thrift Shop” in a parking lot, wearing grungy sweatpants and a greasy paper bag on her head.
It isn’t that this scene isn’t funny or that McCarthy isn’t a great physical comedienne—it’s just that she (and the movie) are a lot more than that, that’s all. While the promotional campaign is selling a broad slapstick comedy, the laughs in Tammy come more naturally from the characters; springing forth from places of genuine emotion and humanity, not just goofy dancing, pratfalls, and paper bags. In actuality, Tammy is more of a “dramedy” than a pure comedy—a bittersweet (a bit lighter on the bitter and heavier on the sweet) story about dysfunctional family systems and dynamics. Tammy is an instantly relatable character whom life chews up and spits out—in one single day, her car is trashed, she loses her job, and she comes home to discover her husband cheating on her with the next-door neighbor.
While she may be uncouth and rough-around-the-edges, we nevertheless empathize with her right away. When she breaks down and cries, our hearts break a little bit for her.
This is the inherent charm of Tammy—a movie about real, flawed, broken people who have to come to terms with what it means to heal, to learn to love each other, and to take responsibility for themselves and for each other. And while not all of this is exactly on the level (the climactic moment of the film is screen legend Kathy Bates telling Tammy to essentially pull herself up by her own bootstraps), it’s nice to see a redemptive story of dysfunction giving way to slightly lower levels of dysfunction. The story functions as a kind of crucible through which this happens, and writer McCarthy, along with co-writer and director Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) are adept at making us care enough about these characters to be invested in their plight.
Although I confess that I’m not very familiar with McCarthy’s television work (including an Emmy-nominated titular role on Mike and Molly), Tammy represents some of the best work I’ve seen from her on the silver screen. She is a veritable wellspring of talent, and demonstrates a full range of wit, charm, likeability, bawdy and brash humour, pathos and relatability. And even though she’s actually quite beautiful (it’s no surprise that she swims in the same gene pool as model/actress/epidemic inciter Jenny McCarthy [Melissa’s cousin]), she doesn’t exactly fit the mold, so to speak, of what is considered in 21st-century American pop culture to be traditionally attractive, simply because she is overweight. This leads me to another thing I really liked and respected about this film—that McCarthy also gets to play a romantic lead.
Because of gender double standards, we almost never see women of McCarthy’s size cast in romantic roles—and certainly never playing against a fit, conventionally attractive leading man. Yet audiences will readily accept the reverse scenario.
In fact, the “fat guy with a hot, skinny wife” trope has become pretty overplayed at this point (although, to be fair, I’m writing that as someone who actually is a fat guy with a hot, skinny wife, so maybe I don’t have room to talk). But here, it’s quite refreshing to see Melissa McCarthy playing a woman whom men find desirable—not overweight men, either, but relatively handsome and dreamy guys like Nate Faxon and Mark Duplass. Together with shows like Girls and The Mindy Project, and the success of artists like Adele, I’m quite happy to see this trend of bucking the often impossibly narrow standards of beauty in pop culture. If nothing else, that’s something else that makes Tammy uniquely charming.