Movie review: Female ensemble makes “Tammy” source of laughs (and maybe tears)

From the July 3, 2014 edition

I had hoped 2011’s “Bridesmaids” — the funniest movie of that year — would usher in a new age of female-fronted comedies. While that hasn’t really happened yet, it did at least turn Melissa McCarthy into a movie star.

After the success (at least at the box-office) of “The Identity Thief” and “The Heat,” McCarthy is returning with “Tammy,” the sort of project that shows she’s got clout in the Hollywood comedy circuit.

“Tammy” — co-written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone — mixes broad, physical comedy with a more tender story than you might expect. The result is surprisingly (and refreshingly) more Alexander Payne than Adam Sandler.

Tammy (McCarthy) is a stereotypically blue-collar woman who hits a deer with her car, loses her job at a fast-food restaurant and catches her husband cheating on her all in the same day. She’s like a walking country song.

With her life thrown into turmoil, Tammy shakes things up with a road trip with her pill-popping, whiskey-chugging grandma (Susan Sarandon). Hilarity ensues.

McCarthy’s Tammy works in the well-worn thread of white-trash buffoonery (think Kenny Powers or Joe Dirt), but she also infuses enough vulnerability to keep the character from becoming a caricature. She still relies a bit too much on the same notes — especially pratfalls — to complete her leap from scene-stealer to someone who can carry a movie, but her likability level is high.

Fortunately, McCarthy has great chemistry with the real scene-stealer of “Tammy,” a delightful Susan Sarandon. You’ll have to gloss over the fact that McCarthy’s movie “grandmother” is only 20 years older than her, but you get some help from prosthetic cankles. She’s remarkably funny and a perfect companion to McCarthy’s Tammy.

That dynamic and the road trip plot is what drew me to the Alexander Payne comparison — a stretch, sure, but I see some “Sideways” in here — although the mix of heartfelt and slapstick could turn off audiences on both ends of the spectrum.

Regardless, with a great female-centric cast — including a great Kathy Bates as a lesbian business mogul — I say “Tammy” is worth rooting for, especially up against the testosterone of “Transformers.”