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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 3.0° F  Fair
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Melissa McCarthy sells herself short as an unapologetic buffoon in Tammy
The agony and the idiocy
It's hard to like McCarthy's thoughtless, destructive character.

It's rare for audiences — so fickle, so prone to judge — to rally behind a single movie star for very long, but ever since Melissa McCarthy's coming-out party in 2011's Bridesmaids, she's basked in the benevolent glow of the people's goodwill. Fans of comedy like her because she's great at her craft, skilled with both physical and verbal comedy. Movie execs like her because she makes bank, in well-reviewed films and critically savaged ones alike. Feminists itching for more diverse representations of female body image in Hollywood pictures like her because she's not shaped like a No. 2 pencil with tits. In short: Most of us dig her. And we're rooting for her. What could possibly go wrong?

McCarthy's instincts at least were right when she selected Tammy, a modestly budgeted comedy cowritten with her husband, first-time director Ben Falcone. But what that unfettered creative control has wrought is not good. In fact, it's pretty awful. So much so that I half-heartedly hoped Tammy might turn out to be some elaborate art-stunt, à la I'm Still There, designed by McCarthy and Falcone to test just how fast they could burn through all that built-in goodwill.

Unimaginatively filmed and of a misbegotten construction, Tammy goes all in with its namesake character (played by McCarthy), hanging the entire movie around a person who is immediately and irreversibly established as being thoughtless, unperceptive, destructive and uneducated. (Two early gags that play on Tammy's unfamiliarity with Mark Twain and Neil Armstrong aren't funny enough to offset the audience takeaway: that Tammy is a fucking idiot.) I hesitate to argue that McCarthy and Falcone should've stayed true to their initial vision of Tammy as a moronic boor who wrecks her car, loses her job and watches her marriage go boom in the movie's first few moments, because that approach to the character reaps very few rewards comedically. But the film's shift away from flat buffoonery, into dramedy territory, isn't any more successful — even if Susan Sarandon, as Tammy's alcoholic grandmother, is a treat.

During the transition, the movie's conception of Tammy becomes fatally confused. At one point, Tammy, who has never appeared troubled by her unkempt style and jokey T-shirts, has a makeover thrust on her. We all know why: Because this is a movie, and movie characters get makeovers. Especially in bad movies. Even when the filmmakers have carte blanche to be different and aim higher. But knowing this hasn't led McCarthy to a better place than what she's visited in past films. It's quite the opposite.

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