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Life of the Party Movie Review

Life of the Party (2018) movie poster Life of the Party

Theatrical Release: May 11, 2018 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ben Falcone / Writers: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone

Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Deanna Miles), Gillian Jacobs (Helen), Maya Rudolph (Christine), Julie Bowen (Marcy), Matt Walsh (Dan Miles), Molly Gordon (Maddie Miles), Stephen Root (Mike), Jacki Weaver (Sandy), Adria Arjona (Amanda), Luke Benward (Jack), Jessie Ennis (Debbie), Heidi Gardner (Leonor), Chris Parnell (Mr. Truzack), Debby Ryan (Jennifer), Yani Simone (Trina), Jimmy O. Yang (Tyler), Nat Faxon (Lance), Ben Falcone (Uber Driver), Christina Aguilera (Herself - uncredited)

 

Life of the Party stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna Miles, a woman who is blindsided when Dan (Matt Walsh), her husband of twenty-three years,
says he wants a divorce after the two of them drop their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college. What is the fortysomething Deanna to do now? Well, after multiple mentions about how she dropped out of college shortly before graduating, naturally Mom decides to re-enroll at (the fictional) Decatur University, much to her daughter's surprise and initial chagrin.

Deanna, whose patronus appears to be 1980s Edie McClurg, tries to fit back in among people less than half her age. She quickly breaks into her daughter's sorority friend group, which includes the somewhat older Helen (Gillian Jacobs), who spent eight years of her life in a coma, and the insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis).

In "Life of the Party", newly dumped Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) goes back to college with her daughter at Decatur University.

Contemporary college life presents a culture shock for mild-mannered Deanna, as she tries to get comfortable with weeknight parties, alcohol shots, and a weird, gloomy roommate (Heidi Gardner). Naturally, she hooks up with Jack (Luke Benward), a handsome sweetheart of a student/oenophile who can't get enough of her. And she also faces some opposition in the form of two bitchy girls from her archaeology class (the more focal of whom is Disney Channel alumnus Debby Ryan).

Since her Oscar-nominated breakout in 2011's likable hit Bridesmaids, McCarthy has enjoyed leading lady status, which is extremely uncommon and almost unprecedented for a plus-sized woman in her forties. Movie stardom yielded commercial success in the action comedy two-handers The Heat and Spy that reunited her with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Lesser returns and worse reviews have befallen McCarthy's ventures with her husband Ben Falcone, who directed and co-wrote with her 2014's Tammy and 2016's The Boss.

Life of the Party hails from the same married couple and it is even of a lesser quality than those two prior McCarthy solo vehicles. As on The Boss, it feels like this movie was born out of a one-sentence synopsis scribbled on an index card and placed on a wall of possible McCarthy/Falcone film projects. "Mom goes back to college with her daughter." There are a number of precedents for this kind of fish out of water comedy, such as Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 hit Back to School and Anna Faris' The House Bunny (2008). That plus wholly uninspired writing renders Life almost entirely familiar and predictable.

Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) becomes friends with her daughter (Molly Gordon, second from right) and her friends (Adria Arjona and Jessie Ennis).

McCarthy emerged as an unlikely movie star with her unique rhythms and good humor. She was comfortable with physical comedy but also able to entertain with verbal wit. Her considerable comic talents are impossible to find here in a film that feels like it's from a different era in a bad way. There is no real narrative to speak of. Instead, things unfold with various episodes,
like Deanna and Jack hooking up in the library, Deanna and friends unknowingly getting high on weed-infused chocolate bark, and Deanna fumbling spectacularly through an oral presentation.

I chuckled just twice, at random references to Harrison Ford and Orson Welles, which come in succession in one of the only scenes of the movie that has a good energy. The rest of the time, this tone-deaf comedy invites more cringing than laughter with its dorky depictions ringing false and yet wanting to be taken seriously for an excessive nearly two-hour runtime.

McCarthy will rebound. She has a potential awards contending turn in the fall's Can You Ever Forgive Me? and, before that, the lead human role in Brian Henson's intriguing-on-paper late summer "neo-noir puppet comedy" The Happytime Murders. She's a charming performer, but that charm inexplicably gets lost in her collaborations with Falcone (with whom she's reteaming on an action comedy scheduled to open Christmas Day 2019).

It's worth noting that unlike the couple's two prior R-rated efforts, this one is a toothless PG-13. Profanity wouldn't have made it funnier, but it's tough to imagine the movie being any less funny than this.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Tully Avengers: Infinity War
Written by Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone: The Boss Tammy
Melissa McCarthy: Identity Thief St. Vincent Ghostbusters (2016) The Back-up Plan Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season
Debby Ryan: Radio Rebel
Back to School The Internship Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Everybody Wants Some Monsters University

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Reviewed May 10, 2018.



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