I find it interesting that one of the producers of the new film “Tammy”, written by Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, directed by Falcone and starring McCarthy, is Will Ferrell. The career similarities between Ferrell and McCarthy are becoming more apparent with each new film.
Tammy (McCarthy), a fast-food restaurant employee, is late again. Her boss (Falcone) is tired of the excuses and fires her. Returning home early, she finds her husband (Nat Faxon) eating dinner with the neighbor (Toni Collette). The betrayal seems to be the last straw and she runs to her mother’s (Allison Janney) house, which is two doors down, and tries to take her Grandma’s (Susan Sarandon) car so she can get out of town, start a new life, make something of herself. But Grandma wants to go and has a large wad of cash to help pay their way, so Tammy reluctantly agrees to let her ride along and they set out on a roadtrip. In Louisville, they meet Earl (Gary Cole) and Bobby (Mark Duplass), father and son farmers who are having a drink at the same BBQ joint. Later still, they pay a visit to Lenore (Kathy Bates), a family member who lives with her partner, Susanne (Sandra Oh) in a big house on the lake. They are just in time for the lesbian couple’s Fourth of July BBQ.
Tammy is not a very remarkable or funny character because we have seen McCarthy do this shtick in a number of films already. Each time, the mannerisms and ticks become more annoying because the persona wasn’t all that memorable to begin with. Tammy is the socially underdeveloped, less intelligent adult woman who needs to find her way in life. Most of McCarthy’s characters come from the same mold. Abrupt, awkward and inept, we watch her journey to a different level of maturity by the end of each film. You still probably wouldn’t want to be her friend, but you will be able to see that there is hope for her. This is the same character she played in “Identity Thief” with the same story arc, it is similar to McMullins in “The Heat”, and similar to her supporting roles in other movies like “The Hangover III”. I would say she is being typecast in these movies, but she seems to be jumping at the chance to make them, embracing these roles, collecting the increasing paychecks as she goes. Whi is she letting herself get into this self-created slump?
Her two best roles? In “Mike & Molly”, she plays a much more well-rounded, more interesting, and funnier character. In “Bridesmaids”, she made an impact playing an even-more caricatured version of her stock character – she had less screen time, so she had to use broader strokes. And these two women couldn’t be more different. She needs to do more work like this.
It is at this point in her career, when each film seems more successful than the last, when every newspaper article sings her praises, when she is in such high demand, that she could be rewriting her playbook and establishing herself as an actress or comedian with greater versatility.
For “Tammy”, she and her husband produce and co-write the film, her husband directs it, they basically create the film from scratch, sculpting everything about it as a vehicle for McCarthy. When you write the film, you set the groundwork for everyone else. As the writer, “Tammy” contains dialogue McCarthy thought she should use. It is a story she thought she should tell. The next ‘gatekeeper’ would be the director, Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband. He helped to create the film as a vehicle for his wife. But this vehicle doesn’t show off her talents, it panders to them. Why waste all of your talents on a film that you have already done? McCarthy and Falcone are responsible, because they are connected to every aspect of the film. It just boggles my mind that they didn’t take this opportunity and run, preferring to play it safe with this lame excuse of a road-trip comedy.
Why did they play it safe? They probably wanted to do what they could to ensure the film was a hit. Safe is better when you are trying to win the weekend box office. Playing a different character would challenge the audience’s preconceived notion of who and what McCarthy would be and could lead to disappointment. On the flipside, if you are expecting a funny film, you will be disappointed, because the film simply isn’t. So who wins with “Tammy”?
No one. Melissa McCarthy will be able to play this role a few more times before someone says “Enough” and she is forced to try something else. Hopefully, at that point, the work she does will begin to surprise and excite people, rather than bore them to death.
But there is a bigger problem at work in “Tammy”. When Dan Aykroyd, Allison Janney, Nat Faxon, Toni Collette and Mark Duplass all play supporting roles in a comedy, you would expect some of them to be funny. Yet not one of them has a funny line. ALLISON JANNEY does not have any funny lines? She is always funny. Clearly all of the effort was spent on sequences involving Tammy and a deer, Tammy on a water ski, that type of thing. And by proximity, you might expect Grandma (Sarandon) to have something funny to do, because she is right next to Tammy, the star of the show, throughout most of the film. But her character seems confused – is she supposed to be the outrageous, sexually unrestrained granny or is she supposed to be the voice of reason to Tammy’s outrageousness? She is both and neither works.
Will Ferrell had an extremely long run playing the same character and collecting a huge paycheck every time - “Blades of Glory”, “Semi-Pro”, “Step Brothers”, “Talladega Nights”, “Anchorman”. In each, Farrell essentially plays the same guy, a down-on-his-luck guy who loses/ quits his job forcing him to rediscover something about the inner man-boy he has spent his life catering to. Sound familiar? Yes. McCarthy’s Tammy is essentially a female version of the same character. Ferrell, like Jim Carrey before him, and Robin Williams before him, enjoyed a long run until the films started to sputter and fail at the box office, forcing them all to look to new venues, new characters, smaller paychecks, but more interesting work. McCarthy seems destined to follow this same path, in no small part to people like Farrell who hand her large paychecks to play the same character. Over and over again.