If you like Lesbian dance parties, Viking burials, old-people flirting and Melissa McCarthy, Tammy's a can't-miss summer bonanza. If you're not particularly gaga for any of the above, this one's still an enjoyable, if pretty low-watt, R-rated summer comedy.
The inimitable McCarthy (The Heat, Bridesmaids, TV's Mike & Molly) is Tammy. Within the film's opening six minutes, she's fired from her job at a fast food restaurant and discovers her husband is having an affair with a prim and mostly silent neighbor (Toni Collette). In a fit of desperation, she decides to take an impromptu trip to Niagara Falls with her alcoholic, diabetic grandma (Susan Sarandon), except they drive the wrong way and find themselves in a Missouri backwater a day's drive from their hometown.
There, they just basically commit small-time crimes and look for wisdom. They go to a bar. Grandma gets jiggy with a horny farmer (Gary Cole). They go to jail. They wend their way to the ranch mansion of Grandma's cousin Lenore (a pitch-perfect Kathy Bates), a pet store tycoon and Lesbian of regional renown. Tammy transforms from an improbably dim bulb — she doesn't recognize "Mark Twain" or "pattern" — to an emotionally solvent adult.
Though at times aimless, Tammy has the spontaneity and immediacy of memorable on-the-road novels. The narrative formulas, to the extent that they're adhered to, are well disguised or happily tweaked. You feel like you're watching something fresh. Tammy's husband isn't having noisy and elaborate sex with the neighbor, for instance. He just makes her dinner (a graver offense). There's no flagship comedic set piece to speak of — the wedding dress/food poisoning debacle from Bridesmaids, anyone? — and most of the comedy is of the unscripted sort, but McCarthy is lovable and fearlessly committed on screen. She takes ridiculous moments that in other films might just be stupid gags and makes them real.
Some imperfect casting choices are distractions: The League's Mark Duplass has a few believable moments as the timid farmboy's son/Tammy's suitor, but in general feels way less authentic than he did as the militant time-traveler in Safety Not Guaranteed; and Susan Sarandon playing McCarthy's hard-drinking grandma is a huge stretch — Sarandon is only 24 years McCarthy's senior — especially in a film which celebrates big women and lesbian women and not conventionally attractive women. Why not much older women too?
But in the brotastic universe of Hollywood comedies, McCarthy's presence on the scene is a boon and a blessing. She wrote the film with her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed) and is clearly its spiritual compass. McCarthy, an Illinois farmer's daughter, knows that there's something pleasing about seeing what look like real people in what look like real places having versions of what seem like real problems, and making us smile an awful lot along the way.