Actors have to work with the physical equipment they've been given, naturally. Melissa McCarthy is a big woman, but her weight has usually been a background element in her performances – it's her nimble comic delivery and buoyant personality that have made her a star.
So it's dispiriting to see her, in Tammy, stooping to play a character who can only be described as a fat slob. The movie's terrible script, a first-time effort by McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, has the titular Tammy lusting after pies and donuts and, in one grotesque bar scene, coquettishly coming on to strangers who reject her out of hand. It's hard to say what's more baffling: that the director – Falcone again, making an unpromising debut in this function as well – gives us so many full-length shots of Tammy waddling around in unflattering getups (black tights at one point), or that McCarthy, also one of the film's producers, approved of his doing so.
The thrust of the plot – something about an urgent need to visit Niagara Falls – is the opposite of very interesting, and the situations in which the blank-slate characters are positioned often have no setup, giving us no idea why they're doing what they do.
The movie begins with Tammy tooling down a highway in her clapped-out Toyota. She hits a deer and then wastes more of our time than necessary conversing with the wounded animal. With her car totaled, Tammy arrives late to her job at a sub-McDonald's burger joint and is promptly fired by her boss (Falcone yet again, making his fourth appearance in a McCarthy movie). Returning home, she finds her husband (Nat Faxon) having dinner with a neighbor (Toni Collette). Why they should be dining thus in the middle of the day is a mystery unexplained. (Wouldn't they be having lunch at this hour?) In any case, although Tammy has hardly caught them in carnal entanglement, she angrily threatens divorce. Faxon and Collette, having been given little in the way of pertinent dialogue, barely react. It's a scene with the awkward limpness of bad improv.
Tammy seeks shelter with her mom (Allison Janney), whose house is nearby. There, Tammy's grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon with frizzy white hair), appears out of a back room, announcing her desire to see the aforementioned Niagra Falls. Pearl has money, wheels and whiskey, and she takes Tammy along. Soon they're out on the road, with Tammy driving and both of them drinking heavily as they speed along. Here I'd suggest that it's difficult to sympathize with a character who gets so wasted behind the wheel that she climbs out the window to roll around on the hood of the car (which now appears to be driving itself). The woman is a dangerous idiot.
Before long they come to that bar. After Tammy strikes out with some of the locals, she and Pearl catch the eyes of two other men. The older of these, Earl (Gary Cole), latches onto Pearl, leaving the other, his son Bobby (Mark Duplass), to make quasi-flirty small talk with Tammy. Duplass is the movie's designated love interest, but since he's compelled by the script to project the personality of a bowl of yogurt, his budding passion for Tammy, if it can be called that, never rises above room temperature.
The movie wanders along randomly. There's a strained lakeside Jet Ski bit and a painfully overextended scene in which Tammy attempts to rob a fast-food eatery with a bag over her head. Eventually, she and Pearl connect with Pearl's cousin, a wealthy lesbian named Lenore (Kathy Bates), and Lenore's girlfriend Susanne (Sandra Oh). They all repair to Lenore's mansion, where a big lesbian garden party ensues. By the time Earl and Bobby turn up out of nowhere, we've lost all hope that this movie will ever even attempt to make sense.
Sarandon and Bates, two classy actors, are slumming here. But then so is McCarthy. She lights up the movie with an occasional smile, and she looks so lovely in a borrowed black dress at one point that we wonder why she felt a need to return to the ancient well of fat-lady gags in search of laughs. It's a drag to see her trapped in a movie this dull and witless. Especially since it's a trap of her own devising.