Life of the Party (2018)
Old School Meets New Life
The third collaboration between Melissa McCarthy and her writer-director husband Ben Falcone, Life of the Party is probably the pair’s best effort to date. Following the awful Tammy (2014) and the fair-yet-forgettable The Boss (2016), Life of the Party gives McCarthy another vehicle to showcase her comic chops, this time in a contemporary riff on the good ol’ ‘back to school’ formula. Here McCarthy play a convivial stay-at-home mom who returns to college in a role that’s similar to that of her desk-bound Susan from Spy (2015), our protagonist, once again, forced to fend off naysayers while trying to prove her worth.
Life of the Party opens when fortysomething parents Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) and Dan Miles (Matt Walsh) are dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year. Before they’re out of the driveway, however, Dan abruptly informs Deanna that he wants to get a divorce, this fuelled by an affair he’d been having with a snooty realtor named Marcie (Julie Bowen). Shocked and upset by the news, Deanna re-assesses her entire life, choosing to re-enroll into Decatur to finish an archaeology degree that she’d abandoned some twenty years ago, when she first fell pregnant. Although Maddie initially feels uneasy about having her clueless mother on campus, her friends — Helen (Gillian Jacobs), Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and Amanda (Adria Arjona) — welcome Deanna with open arms, even nicknaming her ‘Dee Rock,’ the sorority sisters giving her the friendship and support she needs to break out of her comfort zone and make it through the remainder of her course.
What follows is a predictable college romp that starts out slow but picks up speed the further it chugs along. Oddly, there’s an earnest bit of honesty in a few of the early scenes, which see the overly-enthusiastic Deanna come to a realization that she might be intruding in her daughter’s life by enrolling in the same college. Once Deanna undergoes a physical transformation, though, things get really silly and far-fetched but much more fun. Dee Rock ‘rocks’ an ’80s-themed costume party, which sees her tear up the dance floor dressed in a retro jumpsuit with big-ass shoulder pads whilst groovin’ to Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Apache.’ She also hooks up with a much younger stud named Jack (Luke Benward) — who wants to take Deanna backpacking across Europe. Heck, McCarthy even does the classic walk-of-shame with her mortified daughter, whose boyfriend Tyler (Jimmy O. Yang) sleeps across the hall from the smitten’ Jack.
As with most McCarthy productions, there are a couple of real zingers in amongst the sketchy script. The first is a hysterical mediation where Deanna and her brassy BFF Christine (Maya Rudolph) spar against her cheating hubby and his pompous new partner, Deanna getting her eventual revenge on the latter in a priceless dinner scene with a surprise twist, both gags elevated by a side-splitting performance by Maya Rudolph, Bridesmaids (2011).
Come to think of it, there’s actually very little in the way of real conflict. Sure, Deanna’s ex cuts off her support payments, which makes it difficult for the middle-aged mom to finish her course, and a Mean Girls type rival in the bitchy Jennifer (Debby Ryan), but that’s about it. More could have definitely been done with the uncomfortable situation of Maddie having to share her collage experience with her out-of-touch mother, who chases tequila shots with toasts to maternity leave payments and cleaner oceans. I guess writers Falcone and McCarthy are clearly more interested in delivering heartfelt messages about second chances and the power of close female friendships, which is fine, too (I guess).
To her credit Melissa McCarthy is pretty good here as well, the talented 47-year-old delivering her most well rounded character in years. Yeah, she blabs on a bit too much in parts, but Deanna feels like a bona fide person, one who’s empathetic, funny and genuine. Whether she’s dishing out maternal advice to her newfound girlfriends or delivering the single most embarrassing oral presentation in the history of education (trust me, I’m a teacher, so I’d know), McCarthy does a very good job. Support players are equally strong, too, chiefly Community (2009-15) alumni Gillian Jacobs who shines as the math-challenged Helen, aka Coma Girl, a loopy sophomore at Decatur who, after waking from an eight-year-long coma, enrolled much later than the other girls. Australia’s Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and Stephen Root, Office Space (1999), are a hoot as Deanna’s parents, Sandy and her trigger-happy dad, Mike, while SNL’s Heidi Gardner makes the most of her scenes as Dee Rock’s deadpan roommate Leonor, a vampiric type who refuses to step into the sunlight or leave her dorm. And no female-centric flick would be complete without some sort of musical number, which Christina Aguilera drops in to perform (?) in a glorified cameo as herself. Oh, look out for filmmaker Ben Falcone who shows up early on as an affable Uber driver.
Running at a generous 105-minutes, Life of the Party could’ve done with a few snips in the edit room — an awkward moment where Deanna refers to her boy toy as her ‘sexual Dumbledore’ should’ve been cut — but for the most part, this is good, clean PG-13 fun released just in time for Mother’s Day. Although ‘third time’s definitely a charm’ for the couple, I honestly think that McCarthy should take a break from working with Falcone to move onto greener pastures.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie