Life of the Party movie review: Revenge of the nurturer

Angelo Anderson
May 11, 2018

But Life of the Party is more than serviceable-it's wonderful!

Ben Falcone's film, starring Melissa McCarthy, is bland and forgettable but - like the presence of McCarthy herself - there's an inner sweetness that shines through. No sooner have Deanna and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) kissed the kid goodbye than Dan is giving Deanna the kiss-off as well. That's when Dan drops a bombshell on Deanna: he wants a divorce and is already seeing someone else whom he intends to marry. And while any scene in the film can be used to illustrate how hilarious she was, we're going with the airplane scene that she stars in opposite her real-life husband, Ben Falcone.

The movie itself is a lot like Melissa McCarthy's occasionally overbearing, shamelessly corny and indefatigable character of Deanna. There's enough that it's not unrealistically ignoring that issue (I mean, couldn't Deanna have waited one more year to enroll?) but the focus is on positivity and support.

If "Life of the Party" were utterly focused on bawdy horseplay it couldn't carry a viewer's attention very far. And for whatever it's worth, this is a considerable improvement over the couple's previous collaborations of Tammy and The Boss.

As for the humor, The Life of the Party struggles to make jokes out of what are objectively emotionally devastating, complex moments, but manages some laugh-out-loud sequences in its 105 minutes on the strength of McCarthy's charms-in particular, a physical comedy bit that sees McCarthy becoming increasingly, improbably sweaty as she struggles to get over her public speaking phobia and deliver an oral presentation to a class of bored 20-somethings. It can't be a coincidence that those better films, including Spy, Bridesmaids and The Heat, were all directed by Paul Feig, and have an element of comic surprise that is missing here. Stephen Root and Jacki Weaver play the parents, and while director Falcone has an erratic sense of ensemble modulation - it's every scene-stealer for her/himself up there - his instincts for enlivening predictable setups is pretty sharp. Life of the Party is more polished than the average SNL routine, yet its sense of blocking and pacing within scenes aren't that different from a live TV comedy show. There haven't really been college party movies for girls until recently with The House Bunny and Neighbors 2. Maddie (a very natural Molly Gordon), like any ordinary college girl, is quietly horrified at having her bubbly mother living in a nearby dorm and dropping by her sorority with snacks.

There's not a lot to this film in terms of story, and there's nearly nothing you won't expect, especially if you've seen the trailers: Deanna gets a de-frumping makeover to fit in better in college, she learns confidence, she bonds with Maddie, she gets revenge on Dan (in one of the film's best scenes), and she triumphs.

After sitting through this film, it's a feeling I can relate to. Also on hand as McCarthy's best friend is Maya Rudolph. At Decatur, to be "Life of the Party" (which is the instantly forgettable title of this nearly equally unmemorable campus comedy) is to clear a pretty low bar. It's not a film that needs to be seen on the big screen, but Life of the Party is more light-hearted and jovial than most other movies playing in theaters right now (independent and big-budget films alike) and should please the steadfast members of McCarthy's fanbase. Her shtick as a frumpy woman who blossoms under unusual circumstances always entertains.

Life of the Party begins playing in USA theaters nationwide tonight on Thursday, May 10. There's alcohol, partying, drugs, and sex, but none of it is tawdry or salacious.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!

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