Tammy and Resizing Hollywood

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
October 06, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

Shortly after I saw – and then wrote about – the racist romp No Good Deed, coincidentally a controversial article about Shonda Rhimes appeared in the New York Times.

Rhimes – if the name is unfamiliar – is the American creator and writer of a slew of successful shows including Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal and the new series How to Get Away With Murder.

More than just penning a portfolio of great television, Rhimes has crafted a procession of excellent, highly nuanced characters, some – like Scandal’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), for example – who happen to be a) black and b) women.

A point made in the New York Times article is that instead of simply lamenting the stereotypical maids/nurses/office worker roles for black women, Rhimes got angry. Angry enough to rewrite the roles black women have consistently been confined to. She’s done so – with great aplomb in fact – and audiences have not merely tuned in but have become dedicated and passionate fans.

I’m not actually writing about race here, however, but spotlighting the work of Rhimes and, more generally, the desperate need for better parts for women and the reality that this will likely come, not from Hollywood good will, but from rage.

So let’s talk about Tammy.

Tammy is a road-trip comedy co-written by Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone. “Remake” and “homage” are both incorrect descriptors, but at the very least the film appears to at least borrow from the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor.

In Tammy the title character (McCarthy) and her grandma (Susan Sarandon) abruptly break free from suburbia and take to the road, meetin’ smooth talkin’ cowboys, having brushes with the law and – as is essential for this genre – stretching each other’s patience to the point of bonding.

(If you’ve seen Identity Thief – also starring McCarthy – you’re actually familiar with a funnier presentation of much of this material).

Admittedly my grandma doesn’t have a drinking problem – and to the best of my knowledge hasn’t flashed her breasts at a lesbian 4th of July party – but the nightmare of Tammy’s journey is actually very familiar to me. 1999. Melbourne to Noosa. Sometimes I still have PTSD flashbacks.

There’s probably no need to speculate that McCarthy has long lamented the paucity of decent roles for women “failing” to fit the Hollywood aesthetic – anybody with decent vision would no doubt have harboured the same thought – but regardless of the motivation, she and Falcone put together a script that positioned her at the helm.

Despite a cast of excellence, many in fact, who have starred in some of my favourite screen gems – i.e., Kathy Bates (American Horror Story, Six Feet Under; Primary Colors); Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed; Greenberg) and Gary Cole (The Good Wife, The West Wing, A Simple Plan) – Tammy sadly actually isn’t a very good film. It’s sitting at 4.8/10 on IMDB and, truth be told, 4.8 is generous.

But the film is a start.

It’s been far too long time since Roseanne. Far too long since there existed a strong and hilarious larger female character in a role that was more than her weight. Roseanne wasn’t the fat and sassy best friend, she wasn’t the desperate and dateless dieter. She damn well wasn’t some asexual mammy.

Roseanne was fully fleshed out – boom boom – and she was realistic, she was loved, she was sexual and she was bloody fabulous.

In its favour, Tammy isn’t a fat joke film. In fact, I counted only one such slur and it was made by the inebriated grandma and it wasn’t meant as a funny moment. Equally to its credit, there’s none of the pretty-face-pity-about-the-body bullshit that perpetually haunts films where larger women dare dabble in love.

Some is better than none, the journey of a thousand miles, yadda yadda: Tammy is a beginning. Equally, McCarthy is genuinely funny – Identity Thief was surprisingly entertaining – she’s generally delightful to watch and I’m quietly hopeful that if she maintains the rage and grips that pen hard enough there’ll be better things to come.

© Lauren Rosewarne