Melissa McCarthy signs to co-direct Shirley MacLaine road comedy ‘Tammy’

How funny.  As I was writing my piece about “Identity Thief,” looking at how a movie like that happens in the wake of a comedy breakthrough like the one Melissa McCarthy had on “Bridesmaids,” machinery was in motion to set up a deal that is essential if McCarthy hopes to have any control over her fate.

“Tammy” is a film that will very much demonstrate what voice McCarthy hopes to have as a creator as well as an actor.  She’s set to co-direct the film with Ben Falcone, her husband and creative partner.  It was a project that McCarthy helped set up with New Line last year, and she’s set to star in it playing a character she created, and she and Falcone co-wrote the script.  It’s about a woman who is laid off from a job at Hardee’s.  When she learns that her husband is having an affair, she grabs her alcoholic foul-mouthed grandmother and hits the road with her for a comic road trip.  Shirley MacLaine is evidently in talks to play the grandmother, and I think they can cut a pretty convincing trailer of the two of them trading full-tilt R-rated barbs.  It’s the sort of casting that goes a long way to getting something a greenlight.

Im going to guess that no matter what happens with “Identity Thief” this weekend, McCarthy’s got a couple more times at bat before the industry makes any decisions about her, one way or another.  Just yesterday, another deal was announced that sees McCarthy and Falcone working together on three other films.  Every time I saw “This Is 40,” I saw audiences stay to sit through the long uncut version of her rants at Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, and I think in general, audiences seem to like her.  But she plays big characters (personality-wise) and things can go wrong very quickly in terms of audience sympathy with one or two wrong movies.

I think the real test is “The Heat,” which reunites McCarthy with director Paul Feig.  Sandra Bullock is working in her “Miss Cogeniality” comfort zone, and she certainly seems like she’s the right kind of sounding board for McCarthy in a big comedy.  Of course, Bullock is perfectly capable of “All About Steve” as well, but the studio seems confident, and they pushed the film from an April date to a prime June release window.  They seem to think they’ve got a big hit on their hands.  Feig is a comedy mind I trust, and I would not bet against this movie.  If it is a hit, then I think that buys McCarthy a lot of leeway in the industry.  Suddenly she’s looking like a reliable performer, and she and Feig start to look like an irresistible combination.

It’s a smart move by McCarthy, and we’ll see when she ends up actually getting this one in front of the camera.

“Identity Thief” opens tomorrow.