Most reviews for Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy were scathing, dismissive and insulting takedowns, including one opinion piece calling McCarthy a sellout. I can acknowledge that the film is flawed and uneven but it still made me laugh. Melissa McCarthy is funny because she simply is, not because she’s fat. We laugh at her line delivery and character nuance, not at her. We laugh not because she’s disgusting, but because she is unique and unexpected. She plays people whom I would love to hang out with in their hot tub. Humor is subjective and not everyone is going to find her or her films funny. That’s okay. We cannot quantify comedy. A sense of humor is a completely personal manifestation of life experience and personality. Personally, I thought The Hangover was the most unfunny movie I’ve ever seen, but the rest of the world seemed to find it hilarious enough that the exact same movie was remade two more times. I thought Bridesmaids and The Heat were utterly brilliant with McCarthy playing truly groundbreaking roles. I also laughed out loud repeatedly watching Tammy, and I think I’m a pretty tough critic. I didn’t laugh once during The Hangover.
One reason I hated The Hangover is because the female roles are completely one dimensional stereotypes: The Virgin Bride, The Harpy and The Hooker with a Heart of Gold. BORING. (Yikes, if I digress on that tangent, this post will never end! Back to Tammy.) I enjoyed it because McCarthy’s performance and the whole film are nuanced, layered and honest. It’s not as broad or bawdy as Bridesmaids and it’s not trying to be, but it still has a similar heart. Tammy goes through a lot in the course of 90 minutes. She learns, grows and changes. She becomes a better human being with stronger, healthier relationships, both romantically and with her family. And yes, she EATS!
There are a few moments when Tammy’s character isn’t completely believable, such as the much talked about, “Mark Twon, he was a good guy,” joke. It doesn’t work. Although Tammy isn’t the smartest or most educated woman in the world, that one moment doesn’t feel authentic. It’s hard to believe that she really has never heard of Mark Twain and is that ignorant, especially compared to later on in the film when she does show a great deal of emotional intelligence caring for her grandmother and developing a new love interest. The Mark Twain joke doesn’t work because it’s going for a punchline rather than looking for the truth. Comedy is most funny to most people when it is true. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes we laugh through our tears. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Tammy walks out on her husband after she catches him in the midst of a romantic dinner he cooked for a neighbor. “You never cooked dinner for me! Not even once!” Tammy cries. Beat. “And it smells really good too.” It’s heartbreakingly honest and it cracked up the entire theater in the showing I attended.
Many Tammy critics such as the sell-out article author seem to be offended that the movie opens with Tammy eating chips. They get more offended that she also drunkenly tells some cows, “Sorry, cows! You taste so good!” and when robbing a fast-food joint to scrounge up bail money for her ailing grandmother, she takes pies as well. (The place she robs is another branch of the same chain that fired her. Can we say poetic justice, anyone?) When Grandma makes Tammy return her ill-gotten gains, she admits that she cannot return the pies. They’re gone. It’s funny. We don’t see Tammy eat them and we don’t need to. If there had been a scene of her ravenously gorging on the pies, that could have gone too far and probably would have been offensive or degrading. That would cater to the same mindset as all those people who rejected and criticized me without knowing me. That would validate the bigotry of those who think all fat people are binge-eating, 6 gallons of milk chugging, lazy and unattractive slobs.
That’s not funny because it’s not true. That’s not me and that’s not Tammy. She’s going through a rough time, even before the bad day inciting incidents of totaling her car after hitting a deer, being late to work and getting fired then walking miles home to find her husband having a romantic dinner with a neighbor. Tammy’s clearly in an unhappy marriage, working in a dead end job with no goals in sight. She’s stuck in a small home town that she hates and sees no future for herself. She has problems. Then, when she does hit the road with Granny Susan Sarandon, her problems get a whole lot worse before they get better.
Tammy just lost what little she had and while she does her best to put on a brave face, she really is suffering. We also see her eating a donut from a motel vending machine when she is locked out while dirty Granny is getting it on inside. It is a sad, lonely moment for Tammy. This character is an emotional eater. That is real. That is honest. That is painful. That is comedy. And hell, why can’t she just be hungry? She’s had a long day and there aren’t any bloody apples in a vending machine!
And guess what, overly sensitive, hyper-critical people out there? If Tammy didn’t have problems, there wouldn’t be a movie! Oh, yeah! A protagonist of any film anywhere has to start in one place and end up somewhere else. There has to be a journey, a struggle and an eventual triumph. That’s a movie. Duh. A character without flaws is unbelievable and uninteresting. There is no point in watching a perfect character who doesn’t have a struggle. What are we ordinary humans supposed to relate to?
The sell-out author also whines because in the course of Tammy’s robbery, she tries and fails (the first time) to jump over the restaurant’s front counter. Well, she’s an ordinary human, not a super-hero or master criminal. If Tammy were to leap over the counter with ease, that wouldn’t ring true. This is not a person who has experience with leaping over counters or with robbery. Of course it is going to be a bumbling effort. It’s called physical comedy. Lucille Ball excelled at it and no one ever called her a sellout. Melissa McCarthy excels at it and gets criticized at every turn. Sellout gal says Tammy “falls flat on her ass” but that’s an exaggeration. She bounces off the counter the first time, keeps trying and eventually succeeds. It’s not pretty or graceful, but it shows Tammy’s determination in a desperate moment. Her diabetic grandmother doesn’t have her medication and is locked up. She needs bail money. Tammy has few options at her disposal, but is willing to do whatever she can to take care of someone she loves.
Love. The op-ed piece author laments that Melissa’s characters don’t follow an arc based completely around romance. Thank GOD! Yes, I too, would LOVE to see Melissa McCarthy in a typical romantic comedy setting where the entire plot is based around falling in love. HOWEVER, it is also incredibly refreshing to see ANY female character who likes sex but whose purpose, goals, choices and actions revolve around things other than men and romantic love. Sellout lady’s first exposure to McCarthy was Bridesmaids and her first scene where the Megan character sees a man at a party and declares, “I’m going to climb that like a tree.” When everyone else in the movie theater laughed she “pursed my mouth” reeling from a perceived projection of old jokes about fat bodies being unattractive. This is her own issue. It is not written nor implied here, but she creates her own inference.
The introductory description of Megan from the Bridesmaids script goes like this: Annie and Lillian stand with MEGAN, 30’s, tomboyish, looking a bit odd in her floral dress. As written, Megan could be a tough, confident, sexually assertive woman of any size. The filmmakers cast Melissa McCarthy because she brought the most panache to the role. She also brought the Guy Fieri inspired clothing choices to the character because she’s a damn good actress. (Guy Fieri inspires something in all her films, but that’s another story.) The “climb that like a tree” line makes people laugh because it’s a well-written funny line, because McCarthy’s delivery is great and because it is unexpected. Megan is a character that we’ve never seen before on the page and certainly not on the screen as brought to life by McCarthy. In general, we never get to see women as anything but sexually submissive. Our culture does not support anything else. Men ask women out, men make proposals, men are in charge in bed (thanks 50 Shades of Grey). Megan defies all of that and she does it successfully. She does get Air Marshall Jon in the end. She is completely comfortable with who she is and she has dignity in massive proportions.
With McCarthy’s Detective Mullins character in The Heat and with Tammy, the characters’ stories and their journeys are also not about romance. There is more to life! There are other people in our worlds that we can love! Det. Mullins fights to protect her brother. Tammy fights to protect her grandmother. These equally important relationships are front and center while romantic relationships take a back seat. THAT IS REVOLUTIONARY for all women, not just chubby ones. Det. Mullins is a heartbreaker with multiple men pursuing her whom she brushes off without care. She could have a relationship if she wants and she chooses not to. Rock on. Tammy has a guy who becomes interested in her but she just left her husband mere days ago. She’s not ready to jump in to something right away. That’s the smartest choice the character makes in the whole film.
There are plenty of things in pop culture and entertainment that I can find offensive, but a woman enjoying some pie in a stressful moment isn’t one of them. After all, how many times have we seen the same old trope in a million romantic comedies of the lead girl going through a break up and comforting herself with a pint (or gallon) of ice cream? Whether we choose apples or chocolate, celery or corn chips, food nourishes, comforts and sustains us through all the brightest and darkest days of our lives. Food is life. Shut Up & Eat.