You almost had me, Kathy Bates. You almost had me, if for just one moment.
It’s a testament to her depth of talent that she came thisclose to fooling me with one short, well delivered speech. It happens more than an hour into the abysmal Tammy. In the film, Bates play Lenore, a happily attached lesbian who’s living the high life. (She owns over 20 pet stores and lives with Sandra Oh. Not a bad deal.) During a Fourth of July party at her lavish estate Lenore lays down some much needed truth to the disillusioned title character, played by Melissa McCarthy.
Tammy’s just been publicly humiliated by her alcoholic grandmother Pearl (a gray-haired Susan Sarandon), a longtime friend of Lenore’s, in front of all the mostly lesbian partygoers and is feeling quite sorry for herself. Lenore gives it to her straight, so to speak. She talks about how being gay wasn’t always “in fashion” and how she worked hard to achieve her success over the years.
She says this because Tammy’s life is in shambles. Her husband is having an affair with Toni Collette. She gets fired from her crappy fast food gig because she was late one too many times. (She was delayed this last time because she accidently hit a deer (really, an obvious special effect) on the highway. (It thankfully survived.) She didn’t see it because she was rooting around in her back seat for lip balm.) And she’s on the run for robbing the restaurant she no longer works for.
Basically, Lenore tells her to grow up already. (“You’re not mysterious,” she tells her.) If she’s unhappy with her life, Lenore points out, she should stop complaining about it and make some changes to improve it.
Lenore is absolutely right. Unfortunately, she’s also a total hypocrite.
When we first meet her, she wants to help Tammy cover up the evidence of her robbery. Because of her lifelong love of blowing shit up, she decides to burn her borrowed car (the getaway vehicle). (The car that hit the deer is abandoned after it stops running.) Then, in a rather silly ceremony at the party, she torches a jet ski Pearl had to pay for because Tammy damaged it at some water resort (it was attached to the getaway vehicle). So, why is she lecturing Tammy when she’s part of her problem?
Tammy herself is also a big hypocrite. Long after she discovers her husband’s affair, we learn she let the ice cream man play with her boobs because she developed a hankering for Klondikes. Grandma Pearl went even further with him.
Speaking of Pearl, her life sucks even worse. Desperate to get out of her daughter’s house (she lives with Alison Janney and Dan Ackroyd) she convinces Tammy to take her with her on a road trip thanks to having almost 7000 in cash, nearly 5000 of which goes towards paying for the damaged jet ski. Unfortunately, she neglected to tell her obnoxious grand-daughter that she forgot all her medication for her diabetes and high blood pressure. She also neglects to tell her she bought 32 Oxycontin pills off a local street pusher because her regular meds weren’t working. Not helping matters is she always washes them down with booze.
Clearly lonely, on their listless journey they end up in a Kentucky honky tonk (the house band does a decent, countrified Hard To Handle) where they meet two other sad sacks: Earl (a bearded Gary Cole), a separated farmer still caring for his ailing wife, and his son Bobby (an extremely tolerant Mark Duplass) who works for him.
Earl and Pearl hit it off a little too well (they end up getting it on in a car and inside a hotel room after quickly downing the sauce) while the overeager Tammy comes on just a tad too strong with Bobby. While he’s waiting in line outside the honky tonk’s men’s room, she starts frenching him like a maniac.
Incredibly, although deeply startled by her sudden boldness, he’s not completely turned off. (He might be just as desperate as she is.) While waiting outside the car where Pearl & Earl are ravaging each other, he gives her his number before leaving. Because Pearl is just as much of an asshole as Tammy, her grand-daughter is forced to sleep outside the hotel room while the drunkards continue to fuck. The next morning there’s Bobby again coming to check on her and to pick up Earl. It doesn’t require too many brain cells to see where all this is going.
Later that day, Tammy finally unloads some pent up resentment on Pearl. Apparently, Pearl mysteriously left the family home when her grand-daughter was just 10 and Tammy never got over it. (Her sudden departure may have had something to do with Pearl trying to get it on with Ackroyd, her reluctant son-in-law, who politely rebuffed her.) So she ditches Granny only to learn in a phone call from her mom Alison Janney that Pearl is headed for a big crash since she left behind all her pills.
After turning back towards the diner where they were having breakfast, Tammy finds Pearl now in a variety store continually spiking her slushie. Drunk out of her skull and not willing to budge from her spot at the machine, the irritated owner eventually calls the cops. Long story short, Tammy & Pearl end up in jail. Tammy gets bailed out but because those Oxycontin pills weren’t prescribed to her, Pearl stays put.
That’s when a dead broke Tammy decides to rob her old fast food restaurant in a scene so unbelievable and so poorly constructed it destroys any possibility of comic riches. (Can’t they tell that’s not a real gun in that paper bag and don’t they recognize the voice of their former co-worker?) It’s embarrassingly bad, and as it turns out, totally unnecessary.
Truthfully, this whole humourless movie is awkward. (There is not one single laugh to be had.) I can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend any amount of time with Tammy or Pearl. The dimwitted Tammy is astoundingly childish when things don’t go her way. Consider the scene where she gets fired. Not content with insulting her admittedly dickish boss after getting the ax, she decides to contaminate some customer orders with her saliva and hair follicles, as well. (Why? What did they do to her?) Then she tells everybody how bad the food is as if they didn’t already know. Surely, being in this shitty restaurant (and movie) is punishment enough.
As for Pearl, it’s not hard to understand why Tammy doesn’t always get along with her. She’s incredibly selfish and at times, very meanspirited. (As an aside, I’m not buying the gray hair. She’s way too wild to have a conventional appearance.) When she puts down Tammy at Lenore’s Fourth of July party, it hits such a sour note that the whole mood of the film changes. (Not that this was a joy to watch to begin with.) After an hour of deeply annoying, completely unfunny physical comedy, the last half hour is a rather maudlin melodrama. Regardless, you know exactly where everything will end up.
Put bluntly, this whole movie is sad. (Witnessing Tammy’s whole life falling apart doesn’t provoke any laughter.) It’s very difficult to find much wit and humour in these loathsome characters when they are far too aware of their own misery and don’t have anything remotely clever to say. Watching Tammy, you get the feeling all the actors had a great time making it.
It’s too bad I had a horrible time subjecting myself to it.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 14, 2015