You’ve seen Life of the Party before, or at least something very much like it. Mom embarrasses daughter, daughter’s friends think Mom is fun, Mom realizes she’s a nuisance, offers to leave, daughter feels bad, comes to appreciate what Mom brings to the experience; they all live happily ever after. Melissa McCarthy and her co-writer husband Ben Falcone use this old formulaic premise to tell a nice, sweet story that mostly avoids mean, cold-hearted conflict and lets the characters act all while being kind and funny. Deanna (McCarthy) has just dropped her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college, when hubby Dan (Matt Walsh) springs a divorce on her. She’s barely had a moment to deal with being an empty nester, let alone now forced to be labeled a lonely divorcee. He also tells her he is seeing someone and he has sold their home out from under her. With little to no options, Deanna decides to go back to school to finish her degree at the same school Maddie is attending.
Melissa McCarthy loves to do physical comedy, and she seems to be one of the best at it on screen today. She uses her whole body in this effort and has an elegance of execution to kill every gag. In one of the funniest moments, she fumbles her way through an oral archaeology mid-term, engaging in battle with a recalcitrant lectern. The style reminded me of a lot of Chris Farley.
Deanna’s adult best friend Christine, played by Maya Rudolph, is the best friend we all need in our lives. Her ride-or-die attitude makes for some the funniest moments in the film. Whenever she is on screen, I felt myself hang on for every one-liner she threw at me. She gives her spirit and heart to this character and it’s not hard to fall in love with her. Maya Rudolph steals the show.
Aside from a few twists that try to introduce some conflict and tension to the story, Life of the Party is all about dropping McCarthy into a campus full of coeds and letting her do her thing. This is both the movie’s strength and weakness. McCarthy fans will enjoy her unique combination of sweet, self-deprecating physical humor. But that’s about it. The movie feels like a bunch of college themed “Saturday Night Live” sketches strung together. Even though in this movie it works really well, it leaves the story feeling a bit shallow. It also does a disservice to the characters, who have no real character development or growth.
What to take away
Life of the Party delivers on its promise while providing a lot of laughs and a good amount of heart along the way. This isn’t the best Melissa McCarthy performance but it’s pretty close. The terrific supporting cast uses every bit of screen time to their advantage and will have you rolling on the floor. Life of the Party may not be a game changer, but it is one of the funniest big release films this year.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Luke Benward, Jessie Ennis, Adria Arjona, Debby Ryan, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen, Heidi Gardner, Jacki Weaver, Stephen Root, Yani Simone, Chris Parnell
Score: 3 out of 5