Life of the Party
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Since breaking out with an Oscar nominated supporting role in the hit 2011 film Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has proven herself to be a pretty reliable box-office draw. Between Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy and Spy she has developed a solid fan-base that enjoys her goofy, anything-for-a-laugh, style. At this point, I feel it is important to admit that I am not a fan. Her persona is friendly, so I understand why some would find her likable, but I just do not find her funny. So, I am far from the ideal audience member for her new comedy, Life of the Party. I went in sincerely hoping she would win me over with this one. Nevertheless, I am sad to report, I disliked this movie quite a lot.
McCarthy stars as Deanna, whose husband asks for a divorce at the beginning of the story. Devastated, she decides to reenroll in the college she dropped out of a year before graduation, which just so happens to be the school her daughter is entering her senior year at. It is a slim premise, but many successful comedies have been built on less. The purpose of a project such as this is for everything to stop every few minutes so the star can do their thing. The problem is that McCarthy’s Deanna has no consistency to her actions. It is like her and her husband, Ben Falcone (who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with McCarthy), came up with a bunch of college related jokes, then tried to make a movie around them. Unfortunately, they forgot to create an actual character to make those jokes.
The scenes have to match the jokes she wants to make instead of the other way around. Nothing that happens matters because there is little of substance going on in any part of the film. This is not a complete disaster if the jokes are really funny, but they are not. It is mainly Melissa McCarthy doing Melissa McCarthy things. If you enjoy her shtick, you may have a (very mildly) pleasant time at Life of the Party. But, if you are like me, you may find yourself constantly checking your watch to see how much longer until it is over and you can go home.
Though this is almost entirely McCarthy’s show, she is surrounded by a good cast. The tremendously talented Maya Rudolph has a couple of amusing lines, but is largely wasted as her best friend. Matt Walsh as her husband and Julie Bowen as the woman he left her for are there to be the jerks who get insulted by the star. Molly Gordon as her daughter, Maddie, is the straight woman who gets to be alternately embarrassed by and proud of her mother. As far as Maddie’s sorority sisters go, Gillian Jacobs is the only one who stands out as a woman who was in a coma for eight years. Her character is as underdeveloped as everyone else’s; however, she was able to make me laugh a few times, which is more than I can say for the rest of this movie.
Life of the Party (100 minutes, minus the end credits) wants so very badly to be liked. It plays it extremely safe, going for the easy, obvious, joke every single time. While it is reminiscent of several comedies, the one it will probably be compared to the most is Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School. The premises are quite similar, but the approach to the material is different. McCarthy’s comedic style is nicer than Dangerfield’s. The difference for me is that I find Rodney Dangerfield funny. And in a movie that is all about the star’s act, that is pretty much the only thing that matters.
1½ out of 5
Melissa McCarthy as Deanna
Molly Gordon as Maddie
Gillian Jacobs as Helen
Maya Rudolph as Christine
Matt Walsh as Dan
Julie Bowen as Marcie
Luke Benward as Jack
Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy