Since her breakthrough movie, "Bridesmaids," Melissa McCarthy has developed a distinctive shtick, a comic style made evident once again in the just-released "Tammy" (co-written with her director husband, Ben Falcone).
She embellished this now recognizable and perhaps much-anticipated character — abrasive, obnoxious, insensitive, self-centered, profane — in "Identity Theft" with Jason Bateman and in "The Heat" playing opposite Sandra Bullock.
Now she's returned portraying an arrested development woman-child of 40 who begins a really bad day by totaling her car (she hits a deer), loses her job at a fast-food outlet, discovers her husband is having an affair and angrily decides to get out of town by taking her grandmother's money, car, and finally her grandmother (Susan Sarandon).
Together they hit the road, ostensibly to go to Niagara Falls, and, of course, they meet folks along the way. It's a familiar trope. She's perpetually cranky, and her grannie has a buzz on most of the time.
But not only has McCarthy's shtick grown decidedly tiresome, what is missing from "Tammy" is a vigorous comedic foil. Sarandon is too passive, playing the alcoholic grannie wearing a bad salt and pepper wig, unable to resist the persistently immature decisions that Tammy makes in scene after scene.
For Sarandon, it's a thankless role. But then the entire talented cast, to include Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh and Allison Janey, is wasted. The film wanders from vignette to vignette, many mean-spirited, while striving for a pathos that simply doesn't seem credible. Any mojo that McCarthy possessed in "Bridesmaids" or in "Identity Theft" is, with this vacuous tale, long gone. Finally, her one-dimensional, quasi-slapstick shtick has hit the wall.
The questioned begged by "Tammy" is this: When did this type of coarse, hackneyed humor become funny? How is it possible that someone so rude and aggressive and obnoxious, who uses her size to intimidate, can capture audiences in large numbers? Her box office has been huge.
In contrast, a similar character was developed by the late John Candy. His best roles were in the movies "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "Uncle Buck." Not only was he funny, he was kind in his portrayals and in his comedy. There was a simple sincerity in his delivery, absence any anger that today seems almost innocent and old-fashioned. It's regrettable, for true comedy that possesses subtlety and intelligence and makes audience not only smile but laugh out loud may be a lost art form.
Candy, also a person of large size, could seem hapless and maddening yet achieved the fullness of his portrayals with a winning nature that was decent and even caring. His talent shone through in all his films and if he strove for moments of pathos, he achieved them with a quiet honesty.
McCarthy, who has a reservoir of talent as well, could learn a great deal by watching the work of Candy. But then she would have to accept that there is still an audience out there for Candy's type of comedy. Perhaps there isn't.