Movie Review: Life of the Party
Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people working today. But even a cast full of some of the best comedic talent assembled for any film in 2018 can’t save this movie from wearing a little thin on its premise.
McCarthy is Deanna, who, upon dropping her daughter off for her senior year of college, is hit with an ultimatum from her husband (Matt Walsh) for a divorce. He has fallen for the local realtor with her face on all the bus benches (Julie Bowen) and they’re already in the process of selling the house. With nowhere else to go, Deanna decides to re-enroll in college to finish the last year of her archaeology degree, and not enough wackiness ensues.
Maya Rudolph tries to steal the movie as McCarthy’s best friend, as do Stephen Root, Gillian Jacobs, and Heidi Gardner. But the film’s premise ultimately wears thin — it’s a middle aged mom going back to college!! — and it relies more on uncomfortable, cringe-worthy humor of a mom embarrassing herself in front of her daughter.
What is refreshing, however, is that this is exactly the same type of movie we would’ve seen in decades past with male leads — Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield in the 80’s, Billy Madison with Adam Sandler in the 90’s, 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatutm and Jonah Hill — but this presents a female-centric story with a really sweet heart. Unfortunately, it also falls into some of the same traps and tropes of these older films, too — if the girl just lets down her hair and stops wearing glasses and frumpy sweaters, then suddenly she’s attractive? Ugh.
In fact, it’s the character-driven, more dramatic moments of growth that really work in this movie, such as Deanna hooking up with a much younger college guy who absolutely worships her. McCarthy shows off her dramatic chops a little, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows her from Gilmore Girls or saw her opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent. There’s also an ongoing storyline about dealing with the campus mean girls and eventually winning them over that is nice. But the film threatens to lose a lot of that goodwill when, during the third act, the girls get high and then crash and ruin a wedding.
It also feels like the film might be holding back a little bit. Obviously going for a PG-13 rating, they never really get dangerous with their comedy. With McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone getting writing credits (Falcone also directed and shows up in a brief, but perfect, cameo), it’s fairly obvious they wanted to work with a giant group of actors famed for their improv skills. If there are R-rated outtakes from this movie, I want to see them.
Because otherwise the film is just sort of bland. While not a failure by any means, it just doesn’t go for the comedy jugular the way some other of McCarthy’s previous comedies have. But, at least it’s not as bad as Tammy, which remains the unequivocal nadir of McCarthy/Falcone’s collaborations.
This film gets a genteleman’s C — nay, make that a gentlewoman’s C. It passes, just barely, but it feels like it just sort of showed up despite amazing talent, it could’ve achieved great things if it had applied itself a bit more.
2.5 out of 5 stars