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Toad Trip

Tammy (2014)

Plot Overview

Fast food employee Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) w/name badge affixed to her uniform is tooling down the road, bopping to the tune: “I don't wanna lose your love tonight,” oblivious of the country­side around her. When she reaches into the back seat of her Toyota for some Chap­stick, a deer whumps into her wind­shield (“Oh, shit!”) She gets out—we note the Illinois plates—to attend a fallen Bambi. The deer after recovering from shock bounds away, but not before bloodying her nose. She drives the rest of the way with her head sticking up out of the sun­roof, the wind blitzing her hair.

She arrives late to work looking like hell and foaming at the mouth. Her boss Keith Morgan (Ben Falcone) (predictably) fires her: “I'm terminating your employ­ment at Topper Jack's.” She drives home in a car on its last leg, listening to a song, “Bring me sun­shine in your smile,” anticipating some sympathy from her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) when she gets home. “You're home early,” he remarks when she walks in on him enjoying a romantic meal with their neighbour Missi (Toni Collette.) “You can't cheat on me with a neighbor,” she tells him and departs (“I'm leaving you, Greg”) in a huff for her mother's Deb (Allison Janney.)

Having just lost her car, her job, and her husband she's in a state of shock like that deer, but she shakes it off and bounds away with her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), in the latter's Cadillac on the equivalent of what I suppose the Australians would call a walk­about to straighten herself out. Ordinarily I wouldn't expose myself to such a potty-mouth, but the script is some­how written with the artistic flair of a Mark Twain in whose named National Forest they soon find them­selves. For example, addressing the escaping deer with, “You got a good gait, yes!” is excellent alliteration. The song they leave to: “Going up the country” also has some resonance with a parting shot at the bar to the guys who shot her down: “Gay it up!” So when Tammy and Pearl encounter son and father Bobby (Mark Duplass) and Earl (Gary Cole), and the older pairing hit it off but not the younger, I felt like sticking around to see if we wouldn't eventually end up with a Tammy & Bobby and Pearl & Earl.


The critics, some of them, have not liked this movie after first not compre­hending its arc. Its arc is actually diagrammed for us on the screen before the start of the show: a whip forms itself into a spiral with an iconic coffee cup at the center. Couple that with Deb's verbal description of: “It's a pattern, a series of events that repeat them­selves, … some­times to infinity,” and I think we should unwrap the spiral before passing judgment, starting at the center. Tammy freely dis­trib­utes Topper Jack's pies (“Do you like apple?”) to the employees and any­one who wants them. There are two active mothers in this film—one of them is a grand­mother. What is more American than mother­hood, apple pie, and coffee? The center­piece of the movie is a Lesbian 4th of July party (“Happy birth­day, America”) at which Bobby and Earl catch up with Tammy and Pearl, the police catch up with Tammy, the drugs catch up with Pearl, and Pearl's Lesbian cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) gives Tammy a reality check. This movie presents a gay-eye view of American values.

Tammy's mother Deb lives but three doors down from her daughter. Tammy's husband is having an affair with Missi who lives next door. Tammy's grand­mother Pearl lives with Tammy's mother. Pearl engaged in some historical hanky-panky with the ice cream vendor who services consumers on their block. When Tammy drives to work, she passes through open country­side where deer crossing is a danger. When Tammy and Pearl drove off heading for Niagara Falls, they soon found them­selves in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, having driven the wrong way. Sooo, we Americans live clumped together in towns and cities, but we seek escape and recreation in nearby parks and open spaces. We don't have to drive to Canada to see the falls, though that's nice too.

Tammy is totally hedonistic the way she tackles life, but when an opportunity for a romp with Bobby presents itself, suddenly she has qualms saying, “I know this is stupid, but I'm still married. The Guy upstairs frowns on adultery. … I think you burn, actually.” Americans for all their worldliness never­the­less find it hard to completely shake off their religious heritage.

We might as well at least check to see if her assessment is correct, and in fact, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, puts adultery on the to-burn-for list of the unrighteous, which the offender would do well to be quit of. While we're looking at that particular list, we can't help but notice that every­thing on it is presented in the film we're unpacking:

Forni­cators. Fornication is by definition human sexual inter­course other than between a man and his wife. Pearl confessed to having done it as a groupie with the brother (“The wrong brother,” says Tammy) of a band member on tour. Tammy boasts some­what, too, but I'm not sure how much of that is mere brag­ga­docio.

Idolaters. They torched the incriminating jet ski in the lake in a “Viking funeral” sending it off to Valhalla of Norse mythology.

Adulterers. Greg and Missi, presumably. Also Pearl and Earl (“He's married!”) who has an “arrangement” with his sick wife.

Effeminate. Confusion of sexual identity. The travellers have a serious conversation with their hosts about what a Lesbian typically looks like. Butch-looking Lenore fits the expected stereotype.

Abusers of them­selves with mankind. This phrase is a translation of a single Greek word referring to men who have sex with men, sodomy. If we're equal-opportunity with both sexes, it would apply to Lenore and her Lesbian girl­friend Susanne (Sandra Oh), not to mention the rest of the party girls.

Thieves. When Tammy runs low on funds, she robs a local Topper Jack's.

Covetous. When Tammy got fired and there were no household funds for her trip, she coveted her mother's money and car.

Drunkards. Pearl spent most of the trip high as a kite, and Tammy some of it.

Revilers. Tammy had quite a mouth that she used to blast anyone she disagreed with who found him­self unlucky enough to be within her range.

Extor­tioners. Tammy extorted hamburgers-to-go before she would quit bothering the customers and leave the premises where she'd just been fired.

The thing about this naughty list, is that in the civil sphere some categories are taken more seriously than others. Violate the commandment THOU SHALT NOT STEAL and the police track you down whether you've settled with the victim or not. Violate the commandment to HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER (Matt. 15:4), and you're not in any danger of being arrested for it. A particularly firm one is THOU SHALT NOT KILL. Criminals in other areas won't violate that one. Tammy flatly refused her father Don's (Dan Aykroyd) offer to kill Greg for her. On the opposite end of the spectrum is strictures against homo­sexual behavior which the civil law is currently tolerant of to the point that every­one must accept its prac­ti­tioners, in the civil sphere at least, even if they could never be admitted to one's church. Lenore tells Tammy they weren't always in fashion.

Lev. 20:13 made homosexual practice a capital offense. In America's early days, it was a capital offense (rarely enforced) in the colonies. The following verse, Lev. 20:14 prohibits sex between a man and his mother-in-law. Pearl confessed to making (unrecip­rocated) passes at her son-in-law. The proximity of these two verses makes me think the movie wants us to consider just how far homo­sexuals (Lesbians) have come with civil acceptance. Lenore says before they were in fashion they had to work hard for their success. Same formula as Tammy's hetero­sexual white male boss Keith: “Tammy, do you know how I got to where I am?” Tammy: “Sucking dick and kissing ass?” No, he says it was hard work and focusing on his goals, same as with the Lesbians. A great deal is made of not being able to recognize a Lesbian just by looking at her. All of them at the party looked pretty regular, except for Lenore who looked a little butch. They didn't have the same problems with discrimination as Blacks did who couldn't hide their color. The way we treat them, how­ever, one would think they're at a disadvantage for not being able to use sexual favors to procure success in a hetero-dominated society. No, it's plain hard work as a primary American value. It was Tammy who was slovenly in appearance—compare her to the other girls at the party—and unfocused even in driving.

Tammy had trouble with her vocabulary, notably when she told a couple men at a table, “I'm cool with your life­style choice. Gay it up” (they weren't necessarily gay.) Gay is not a verb. As a noun it means a homo. As an adjective gay can have any of four distinct meanings, all of them illustrated in this movie. It can mean brightly colored; like the gay fire­works. It can mean licentious or given to social pleasures, as Tammy's life­style (for a time) was oh, so gay. It can mean exuberantly happy. The bar scene with all the dancing was really jumping, but I'd not describe it as a gay bar for fear of confusion with the fourth meaning. Tammy's marriage to Greg at one time was a happy one judging from their picture on the bureau, and her exuberance qualifies the description as a gay marriage, them being happily married, in wedded bliss, all those expressions being of a piece. Further­more, Greg might have done well to consider, (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joy­fully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life” and return to the happiness he knew with her. If it would help him to look at their picture and think about their once gay marriage, I'm not going to cast a stumbling­block in his path by preempting the adjective in that dyad to mean some­thing else. Gay can also mean homosexual, like describing the orientation Tammy thought the two men at the table had.

It's not necessary to use the word gay as the only short one to mean homo­sexual something. Take what Michael Nava writes: (200)

The word queer is ambiguous; for decades it had been an epithet, but many younger gays had co-opted the word and proudly described them­selves as queer, in the same spirit that long-haired college students in the sixties used to call them­selves freaks.

Tammy had an interesting philosophy that can be applied to more than just the guy who was interested in her: “I don't think putting two messes together is gonna make an unmess.” If two queers marry [no offense intended] does that make theirs a straight (non-queer) marriage? Nope. What about two gays? If they marry and we call it a gay marriage, well, maybe they are happy and more power to them, but it's being called other than a queer marriage if the dyad gay marriage is taken by some to mean a happy (usually hetero-) one, not same-sex marriage. The latter expression is all that's been formally legalized in places.

It also has to do with there being more than one meaning of marriage. A queer marriage is not the same as holy matrimony, because according to 1 Cor. 7:2 it has to be with opposite-sex partners to avoid fornication. Marriage can simply mean the close union of two entities of what­ever kind and is commonly used to emphasize that the link between them actually exists, when it would be hard for people to fathom. An example might be from writer Robert K. Tanenbaum; (123)

The moderates in the nationalist movement struggle to disavow the acts of terror against civilians and being aligned with Islamic extremism. But there is an interesting marriage occurring: the Islamic extremists and certain powerful people within the Russian government seem determined to link the nationalists to the more fanatical groups, especially al Qaeda.

Same-sex marriage is equivalent to civil union or domestic partner­ship in which­ever state it was enacted, just relabeled but never intended to affect the religious status of such couples, only to make their civil status more equal to that of straights. I think the gay-eye view, at least as presented by this movie, is to accept as good treatment of gays the informally synonymous: same-sex marriage, civil union, or domestic partner­ship; and to respect the roughly synonymous for straights: gay marriage, happily married, & wedded bliss. The American value of hard work to achieve one's focused goal(s) is de rigueur for anyone.

Production Values

Tammy” (2014) was directed by Ben Falcone, having been written by him and his wife in real life Melissa McCarthy who seems to have tailor made her lines for her­self. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, and Kathy Bates, joined by actors Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, and Sandra Oh in supporting roles. I think the stature of the actors kept the story watch­able, which other­wise might have sunk in its own deca­dence. It's rated R for language including sexual references. The camera work and sound quality are decent. The tunes played are groovy. A lot of the dialogue can seem grating, but it's only 97 minutes long.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I was not charmed by the dialogue, but it was tolerable on account of an underlying comedic genius, but only barely. The story arc around enduring American values was twisted beyond re­cog­nition. I must have a twisted mind to have enjoyed it. I'm not sorry I went to see this movie but must advise consumers to watch it at your own risk.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.

Works Cited

Bible quotation from the King James Version. Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

Nava, Michael. The Burning Plain. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1997. Print.

Tanenbaum, Robert K. Counterplay. New York: Atria Books, 2006. Print