The good news: Tammy isn't entirely about making fun of fat people for being fat fatties who eat the fuck out of food when they're not falling down on their fat asses for being so fat that they can't even stand on their fat legs. And as such, whenever future cinephiles are attending Melissa McCarthy retrospectives, it will be a gratifying step up from the hellish Identity Thief, a film whose hatred of McCarthy was so unrelenting that I was genuinely sad that she'd felt compelled to take the part. On the other hand, McCarthy is the producer and co-writer, with her husband Ben Falcone, of Tammy, and Falcone directed it, and if this is what passes for a passion project, I think that the time has come to stop feeling sorry for a demonstrably talented comic actor getting shitty parts, and instead begin bemoaning the same talented actor's repugnant tastes.

Tammy is a bizarre, dysfunctional grab-bag that wants to cram far too many tonal shifts into one foul-mouthed road comedy, and has nothing even resembling the skillful writing nor the tightly controlled filmmaking to even begin to make such a mulligan stew palatable. It focuses on a certain Tammy, of course, played by McCarthy as only a slightly modified version of the bossy screamer she's made into her one and only cinematic trick (her TV work showcases such a different, broader scope of skills that it's barely possible to square the two incarnations of one performer). It's not Tammy's mouth or her attitude that has in trouble at the start of the movie, but sheer dumb luck: she hit a deer on the way into work, which made her late, which was the last straw for her nasty little petulant boss (Falcone, gamely besting his wife in the "how awful can I make myself look?" competition). So she's fired, and when she arrives back home, it's to find her husband (Nat Faxon) and next door neighbor (Toni Collette) having a romantic dinner, and now that her life has completely imploded, she walks two doors down to where her mother (Allison Janney) lives with her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon). You will note that I have only bothered giving just the one character name; this is because Pearl and Tammy are, for a long time, the only characters who matter whatsoever, and so we are treated to the immensely saddening spectacle of seeing actors like Janney, Sandra Oh, Kathy Bates, and Dan Aykroyd appear for at best a scene or two which asks them to do things they have done literally dozens of times now (Bates), gives them absolutely nothing to do but recite lines in a uniform tone of voice (everybody but Bates), or stand there gawking without even any lines, just sort of occupying the frame and making me wonder with something approaching actual, literal horror what kind of terrible culture would reduce somebody with that much goddamn talent to the role of a glorified prop (Collette). There is the test, I forget the exact wording, but it's something like, "could this character be replaced with a coat rack that had a sign hanging on it, without it changing the plot?" Collette's character could be replaced by a naked coat rack.

Anyway, Tammy can drive, Pearl has money and a car, and so they take off from the dead-end of Murphysboro, IL, on a trip to Niagara Falls; one drunken night later, they're stuck in Louisville, Kentucky, where Pearl meets the horny middle-aged man Earl (Gary Cole), and Tammy flirts badly with Earl's son Bobby (Mark Duplass), who will eventually come around to finding her fascinating, in a fairly desperate gambit to make this film look even marginally less anxious to make fun of overweight people. A fast food restaurant is robbed, a lesbian picnic is visited, and everything is much too shapeless and devoid of energy to be funny in any way. The impression I have is of a movie where simply gathering everything together into the broad shape of a feature-length film exhuasted everybody too much to bother doing anything else with it. The film is crammed full of scenes that have the approximate structure of jokes, but not the timing nor the apparent payoff (a keen example: the reveal that Tammy lives two doors down from her parents, which is staged in a lateral tracking shot that implies it's supposed to be hilarious in some way, and it's just not). Even more often still, the movie doesn't even bother to act like it's telling jokes, as in the interminable lesbian 4th of July celebration, a monstrously long stopover that fills several empty plot-driven needs, as though McCarthy and Falcone realised upon reaching that point in the script that if they didn't start resolving dangling emotional threads, the film would hit two hours without a climax.

At the same time it's failing to be a funny comedy, Tammy is failing, to somewhat less ugly results, to be a character drama; there's a lot of stuff about living life to the fullest, and not blaming other people for your problems, and it's all awfully clichΓ©d and virtually none of it feels very legitimate (the point where, in the form of some old-fashioned Kathy Bates truth-tellin', the film shifts from a celebration of Tammy and Pearl's freedom seeking to an indictment of their dumb, shallow selfishness happens so clumsily that you can almost hear the mechanics of the screenplay clunking). Falcone is nowhere remotely near a supple enough director to make the necessary maneuvers of tone to adjust from the scenes where Tammy is a klutzy, yelling idiot to the scenes where she's a sensitive soul who just needs some understanding and self-love, and McCarthy's performance is entirely devoted to finding a chilled-out mode where she just hangs back and snarks, and this mode ends up serving nothing in the movie. Whatever human depth it reaches comes exclusively from Sarandon, whose stockpile of highly self-aware sexuality from the days of her youth are played off in fun and lively ways, though the fact that Sarandon can excel in the "slutty grandma" role against an actor only 24 years her junior is no kind of real achievement, and only the fact that I'm pleased to see her with any role of decent size in a high-profile relief keeps that fact from depressing me as much as it ought to.

In short, Tammy is lazy, ineffectual filmmaking with hypocritical aims towards being a sympathetic character study of a woman it repeatedly mocks for being a hefty eater and sloppy mess; it is neither smart nor funny, when it desperately wants to be both. McCarthy is a talented performer, and I assume at some point she'll get a part that isn't "gross and angry and loud", if only by accident. It is, at any rate, no real surprise that she didn't get it this time.