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Knight at the Movies: Tammy; All Night Long; Gore Vidal
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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About three-quarters of the way through Tammy, which stars Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon, the movie finally finds its footing with the arrival of Kathy Bates.

In one brief monologue Bates whips both the film and McCarthy's character into shape, providing depth and adding some much needed dimension to what to that point has been an amiable but rather thin road comedy. I think Bates is an American acting treasure that needs to be handed every award we've got ( and then some ) and her brief role in Tammy as a forthright lesbian offers further proof of the inestimable magic Bates brings to everything she does.

Tammy was co-written by McCarthy and her husband, comedian Ben Falcone ( also making his directorial debut ), and was produced by McCarthy as a follow-up to her box-office hits Identity Thief and The Heat. The story follows the travails of the luckless Tammy who, as the movie begins, is having the baddest of bad days. After surviving a run-in with a deer ( who is merely stunned ) in her beat-up Toyota, Tammy finally gets to her job at a fast-food joint only to find her boss ( Falcone ) fed up with her tardiness. He ignores her distress ( and the blood on her face ) and fires her on the spot. Limping home—after her car breaks down—Tammy discovers that her cutie-pie husband ( Nat Faxon ) has been keeping company with the next-door neighbor ( Toni Collette ).

After not getting much sympathy from impatient mother Allison Janney, Tammy hits the road with Pearl ( Sarandon ), her wild and crazy granny who's an alcoholic with an eye for the fellows. Tammy doesn't much like Pearl ( and vice versa ) but grandma has several thousand in cash and offers her car to boot so off the two go, with a hazy idea about visiting Niagara Falls. As in all road comedies, a series of misadventures awaits these two mismatched, bickering souls on their way to mutual love, understanding and character growth, with the aforementioned Bates, as Tammy's Aunt Lenore, providing the latter.

Lenore has made a lot of money owning pet stores—apparent from the gorgeous lakeside home she shares with Susanne ( the lovely Sandra Oh ) where Tammy and Pearl end up just in time for a big, delightful Fourth of July celebration that swarms of Lenore and Susanne's lady friends attend. At the height of the party, a drunken Pearl publicly humiliates Tammy, leading to the wake-up call speech from Bates.

"Gay hasn't always been in fashion," she reminds Tammy, hinting at years of struggle for equality as both a lesbian and a woman, adding that she and Susanne have had to work for everything they've achieved. With a firmness and compassion that elevates the speech, Bates ( who looks chic in her short, frosted haircut and makes for the coolest lesbian ) commands the screen; at that point I wanted to dump the predictable premise and go off with Lenore and Susanne, and see their movie. "Here's a story that would really be interesting, I thought," and hardly the run-of-the-mill stuff we'd been watching.

This is not to imply that Tammy doesn't have its share of laughs and it certainly offers—as was intended—a great showcase for McCarthy's talent for physical comedy. But the episodic material is filled with logical gaps and filling the tiny supporting roles with such well-known actors ( in addition to Janney, Collette and Faxon, there are Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass and Gary Cole ) keeps throwing one out of the movie. The movie's biggest flaw is in the pairing of McCarthy and Sarandon. Sarandon—strapped into a ridiculous-looking gray wig that doesn't dim her innate sensuality for a second ( something even the movie can't deny )—gets her share of laughs. However, you don't for a minute believe that she and McCarthy are related, and that central flaw dampens this okay-rather-than-great comedy that could have used another script polish before going into production.

Of related interest:

—Girltrash: All Night Long is another female-driven comedy, this one from D.E.B.S. writer/director Angela Robinson ( who wrote the script and produced ) and director Alexandra Kondracke.

The movie, a spirited, lesbian variation on Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, focuses on Daisy ( Lisa Rieffel ), a bleach-blonde lesbian rocker whose riot-grlll band has a 1 a.m. slot at tonight's Bandslam contest. Before Daisy and her lesbian cohorts—including fellow rocker Tyler ( a Joan Jett look-a-like ) ( Michelle Lombardo ) and Daisy's younger sister Colby ( who is just coming out ) ( Gabrielle Christian )—can make the gig, of course, they will be beset by complications galore, many of which are recounted in a series of infectious, alt-rock original songs.

The songs initially add more zip to the already energetic proceedings ( with "By 2 AM" a highlight ) but eventually start to wear out their welcome as the sound-alike melodies and lyrics pile up. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm of the talented cast—playing broadly to the back of the theater—and a lot of witty lines in Robinson's script ( "I didn't know my ex was going out with Courtney Love" is just one of the funny quips in a movie full of them ) add up to a mostly delightful waste of time. Expert comedienne Megan Cavanagh ( who should have been handed a bigger role ) and Clementine Ford are part of the fun. The movie is available on VOD and DVD.

—Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf? is another lesbian-centric comedy. This one focuses on a 40-year-old filmmaker, Anna ( Anna Margarita Albelo ), who makes one more attempt to kickstart her wayward career with a lesbian remake of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Anna uses every trick in the book to convince her friends to sign on to the project, which she hopes will finally bring her both success and romance with the gorgeous Katia ( Janina Gavankar ), whom she has cast in the movie. But naturally, Anna's friends, including the hilarious and droll Penelope ( Go Fish's Guinevere Turner, who wrote the script ) and Chloe ( True Blood's Carrie Preston ), are more than a little skeptical. The film played at last year's Reeling Film Festival to great audience response and is now available on VOD ( with, presumably, a DVD release to follow ).

Briefly noted

A good case could be made for labeling Gore Vidal, the acerbic writer, as our modern-day Oscar Wilde. With his razor-sharp humor always front and center, the peppery, endlessly opinionated Vidal was never at a loss for an insightful 30-second sound bite. Defiantly gay decades before such openness was remotely thinkable by the majority of gay people, Vidal was truly one of a kind.

This keenly intelligent man—flinty and unsentimental but passionate about fairness; caustic; and, at times, gleeful in the takedown of his conservative opponents—is vividly portrayed in Nicholas Wrathall's documentary Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia, which opens JUly 4 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Vidal's fascinating life, which found him at the epicenter of politics and movies, is narrated by the man himself, and Wrathall has the smarts to get out of his way. ( Who wouldn't? ) The result is close to hagiography, but with a central figure as articulate, funny and as candid and forthcoming as this, that's understandable.

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