We know that Melissa McCarthy is a wickedly funny performer.
To date, though, the fireplug actress has been a supporting player (in "Bridesmaids") or part of a double act (with Sandra Bullock in "The Heat" or Jason Bateman in "Identity Thief"). Can she fly solo?
Melissa McCarthy, in her first solo starring vehicle, plays a woman with a ton of troubles — and shows she’s more than just a joke machine.
Where » Theaters everywhere.
When » Opens Wednesday, July 2.
Rating » R for language including sexual references.
Running time » 97 minutes.
The answer is yes, as evidenced by the comedy "Tammy," a funny rough-and-tumble tale in which McCarthy adds some shades to trademark tough-talking bluster.
McCarthy plays Tammy, a woman who attracts bad luck. We meet her driving down an Illinois highway to her dead-end fast-food job, when she runs into a deer. The deer survives, but Tammy’s Corolla is a mess — and when she’s late for work, the manager (played by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and the film’s director) fires her.
Her response to the firing is pure McCarthy: She leaves in a blaze of glory, trashing the kitchen, shouting at the customers and throwing ketchup packets at the boss.
Things get worse when Tammy learns her husband (Nat Faxon) is having an affair with a neighbor (Toni Collette). She packs up and leaves, walking two houses over to her mom (Allison Janney).
Tammy declares, for the umpteenth time, that she’s leaving this small town forever. The only way out, though, is to borrow her grandma’s Cadillac. That means bringing along Grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon), who has a fat roll of cash — as well as diabetes and an alcohol problem.
The pair hit the road with a stated destination of Niagara Falls. But Tammy goes the wrong way, and soon they land in Louisville, Ky. — where Pearl gets frisky with an old farmer, Earl (Gary Cole), and Tammy gets chatting with Earl’s more responsible son, Bobby (Mark Duplass).
The road-trip scenario affords McCarthy plenty of opportunities for comedy — the centerpiece, seen in the movie’s trailer, has Tammy trying to rob a fast-food place — but also some tender moments. Tammy and Pearl have some unresolved issues, which come to a head during a visit to Pearl’s no-nonsense cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates).
"Tammy" is a case of McCarthy knowing what works best for her. She co-wrote the movie with Falcone (who played the air marshal with whom McCarthy flirted in "Bridesmaids") and peppered the script with allusions to her own life. She also plays well against another actor, so the script smartly pairs Tammy with sparring partners — none better than Sarandon, whose carefree charm is a laugh-generating contrast to McCarthy’s bulldog attitude.
McCarthy shows in "Tammy" that she’s not a one-note comedian. She’s got layers, some grit under the jokey façade, and a determination to find — or, if necessary, create — the roles that bring out those different shades.
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