By Eric Kelsey
BEVERLY HILLS Calif. (Reuters) - Melissa McCarthy, a comedian best recognized for her full-throated and dim-witted style, stays close to home and character in "Tammy," a Midwestern road trip that provides comic relief in a summer season largely dominated by apocalyptic action.
Co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also makes his directorial debut, the film tells the story of McCarthy's Tammy, a coarse fast-food worker who loses her job, car and husband in an evening, and rashly takes off on a road trip with her hard-drinking grandmother Pearl, played by Susan Sarandon.
"It's a love letter to the Midwest about someone who wants to leave the Midwest," said Falcone.
"But we mean it nicely," McCarthy interjected alongside her husband ahead of the film's Wednesday release.
"Tammy," distributed by Warner Bros., plays on the isolation and landscape of rural mid-America that both McCarthy, 43, and Falcone, 40, fled after growing up in small-town Illinois.
"I was ready to go," Falcone said about his hometown of Carbondale. "And then I leave and I'm like, 'We should write a movie about the good old Midwest.'"
Broke, unloved and attention-starved, Tammy reluctantly takes grandma Pearl on her journey because Pearl has the car and enough cash to survive.
The problem is grandma Pearl is nearly as much trouble as what Tammy just fled, boozing and chasing men through Missouri and Kentucky before Tammy decides to hold up a fast-food joint so she can bail Pearl from county jail.
"Tammy" is expected to gross $25 million in its opening weekend, which would make it the top new release over the U.S. Fourth of July holiday, according to Boxoffice.com.
The idea behind "Tammy" sprang to the husband-and-wife team six years ago, predating McCarthy's Oscar-nominated role in 2011's "Bridesmaids" and last year's buddy cop romp "The Heat."
"Every character I play somehow I grasp and take something from those Midwestern women that I grew up with," McCarthy said. "There's a no nonsense feel to them."
In both films, McCarthy plays her trademark brash, self-unaware but endearing buffoon in the same vein as Will Ferrell, a producer of "Tammy."
"I knew all the things that Melissa could do, these characters that are larger than life but still grounded," Falcone said. "I thought what better way, where she and I are both from the Midwest, to tap into that sort of lady we both knew growing up."
Tammy's journey along country roads, in stifling summer humidity, eventually leads her and Pearl to ladies' man Earl (Gary Cole) and his quiet son Bobby (Mark Duplass) with the promise for a new lease on life.
"Just traveling, driving all up and down these little back roads, there are a lot of rural people in the world," Falcone said. "And I think it's fun to get to do a comedy that's about people from a small town."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Steve Orlofsky)