Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh inspire as a lesbian couple in “Tammy”

Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone co-wrote their new comedy Tammy after Ben woke up with a simple dream about Melissa taking a road trip with her grandmother. Years later, Melissa is a bonafide film and TV star and billboards of her in a “Mahalo” T-Shirt in front of a fast food joint she held up with a paper bag are unavoidable in Hollywood.

Tammy, which opens today in select theaters and nationwide tomorrow, July 2, is a comedy about a woman stuck in her small Illinois town and ready to bust out. After getting fired from her job at fictional burger joint TopperJacks and finding out her husband is sleeping with the demure neighbor (Toni Colette), Tammy (McCarthy) decides she’s had enough.

“Ben and I both grew up in Illinois,” Melissa said at a press day for Tammy. “We based it on real people we know and what it’s like getting — if you feel stuck — I think there’s people that really love the comfort of their small town and there’s people that feel stuck by it. And that’s kind of our jumping off place: If you’re really stuck in this rut, and stuck in this whole little tiny world of things you don’t like, how hard do you have to get hit to bump you off your vicious cycle?”

Tammy isn’t going anywhere without a working car or money, though, which is where her grandma, Pearl, (Susan Sarandon) comes in. Ready to get out of town herself, Pearl shows Tammy her stack of cash and they hit the road with no real plan or destination. What ensues is, of course, hilarity but also a slowly unraveled mystery as to why Tammy wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of Pearl joining her without feeling like it was her only option.

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As they drive through the rural Midwest, Tammy and Pearl find themselves in some interesting situations, including a roadhouse BBQ joint where Pearl, an alcoholic pill popper, takes a lover (Gary Cole) and leaves Tammy outside the hotel room to sleep on the ground. Despite Susan Sarandon’s donning of grandmotherly clothes and a wig, she still seems a little too young for the role but does her best to convince she’s old enough to have Allison Janney as a daughter and Melissa as a married 30-something granddaughter.

During the screening, cheers erupted when Kathy Bates comes on screen as Lenore, Tammy’s lesbian aunt. Lenore lives in Louisville with her partner, Suzanne (Sandra Oh), where they have a beautiful, sprawling property and home and own a successful dog food business. Lenore is called in to help Pearl and Tammy get rid of some evidence, and Kathy Bates said she was thrilled to be able to set some things on fire.

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“I really loved tossing the molotov cocktail at the car,” Bates said. “That was really cool. I figured in her past she might be a little SDS with Susan and they got probably in a little trouble here and there. It was really cool.”

Lenore’s bad-assery is evident immediately, and her chemistry with Sandra is instantly recognizable. Both actresses have played gay before but there was nothing about their relationship in Tammy that was false or forced. In fact, Melissa said she wanted Lenore and Suzanne to be the people that Tammy would be inspired by most.

“I think we wanted to have somebody in their lives that was kind of the goal,” Melissa said. “We wanted somebody to be like ‘Oh they’re in a great relationship.’ And Lenore’s character had made it out and become really successful.’”

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Lenore and Suzanne host a huge lesbian Fourth of July party (filmed with tons of real lesbian extras in Wilmington, North Carolina last year) where Pearl gets out of control and flashes her boobs to the attendees, and ends up insulting her granddaughter in a very public way. Lenore has a heart-to-heart with Tammy where she lets her know that things weren’t easy for her; that she worked hard to get where she was and ‘Gay wasn’t always in fashion.’”

“We needed somebody to be kind of the strong successful one that wasn’t also coming down on anybody and making anybody feel guilty,” Melissa said. “I mean I loved all the stuff between Susan and Kathy so much because you know from Lenore’s character she’s not making all these bad choices but she never makes Susan’s character feel guilty about it. I just thought that was kind of necessary to have in the film.”

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There are no lazy lesbian jokes in Tammy and the party at Lenore and Suzanne’s would look enviable to anyone. Kathy Bates shows off some hilarious dance moves and sets more things on fire, something she credits Sandra for helping her get into.

“I loved it. I’d like to blow more things up. What made that work for me … and I wish she was here now, Sandra Oh really, really made our relationship work,” Kathy said. “Because when you’re playing a gay character, I mean, what’s that? It was all about a relationship of two people who had supported and loved each other for 20 years and had built something out of difficult times. And so she from the very beginning said ‘We should have wedding rings!’ So we went to the prop guy. But that particular night, she leaned over and said ‘Honey, this is just like college. Remember you did all of this in college!’ So when she said this I was like ‘Yeah, yeah! I did the javelin! I did track. I did all this stuff.’ And she just really gave me the confidence, really.”

“She and Sandra were — it just seemed right,” Melissa said. “Even right away, they did actually know each other. [Kathy] directed Sandra in things. And just wright away, when they were together, how comfy — you felt they were that great couple you look at and think ‘What’s that magic?’ Because they just feel right together.”

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The women in Tammy are truly the stars of the film, with the male characters a bit undeveloped and certainly less funny. Melissa, Susan, Kathy and TopperJacks employee Sarah Baker are the ones with the comedic scenes and heart, which is exactly what makes the film worth seeing.

Tammy opens in theaters nationwide July 2.

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