Two decades on from the iconic Thelma and Louise, Susan Sarandon buckles up for another epic road trip, this time she is joining Melissa McCarthy in Tammy. The directorial debut of McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone, Tammy follows the misadventures of the eponymous heroine on the worst day of her life – her car is wrecked, her job serving burgers at the local fast food joint is lost, and her husband leaves her for the next-door neighbour. Tammy’s only refuge involves taking her alcoholic grandmother Pearl (Sarandon) on a road-trip to Niagara Falls. It is the beginning of a string of bad luck that tails Tammy through the film, misfortune that is only matched by the meta-tragedy of thefilm repeatedly falling short.
Falcone has some solid comedy credentials as an actor, we know McCarthy is more than capable of getting the audience laughing, and even Dan Aykroyd stops by for a cameo role – but while it looks good on paper, it feels as if a vital element is missing from Tammy. Good comedy needs something to bounce off, it is the basis of the most fundamental of all comic relationships – the double act. The pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in 2013’s The Heat worked so well because both characters had radically different styles that conflicted comically. It is a formula that is not applied in Tammy, where both Tammy and Pearl are equally brash and selfish. On top of that, Sarandon never seems to sit comfortably or convincingly into her role as the Grandma from hell. With only a 24 year age gap between the two actors, it is hard to envision how this casting could work out – even rigged out in a grey wig and prosthetic cankles Sarandon never looks the part.
As a character, Tammy is written to be difficult to like, her qualities are buried so deep that by the time a redemptive turnaround appears it is too late to care. The film doesn’t fail for lack of trying, if there is one thing that can be said in its defence it is that it makes consistent efforts to make the audience laugh. The problem is that it seems powerless to do so. For the most part McCarthy attempts to carry scenes with a deluge of that kind of obnoxious, over the top comic performance that Jack Black milked dry around 2006. Without a convincing reason to root for her, and with little or no chance to develop the character, the film meanders and unravels more than it progresses. A late in the game appearance by Kathy Bates as Pearl’s cousin steers things in the right direction, but by that stage there is no saving it. While this road-trip doesn’t end up with the characters careening over a cliff-edge, you will probably wish it did.