Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone
Melissa McCarthy has found great success in the world of comedy over the past decade, and has proven that she is more than capable of leading the cast on her own. Her brand of humor is rather unique, as well as a little over the top, brash, and self-deprecating. She certainly doesn’t have a problem making fun of herself, or at least her image, even after having lost quite a bit of weight in recent years. In Life of the Party she once again teams up with husband/director Ben Falcone to craft a comedy about a mom who put her dreams in the backseat for the benefit of her husband and daughter. This feminist comedy is exactly the type of thing McCarthy excels at and should be doing. So then why is so little of it very funny? Well, I guess we should focus on the real laugh out loud moments instead.
Deanna (McCarthy) has been a loving and supporting wife and mother for two decades, asked to put her dream of becoming an archaeologist on hold so her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) can go through school and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) can, well, do whatever it is he wants to do instead. After dropping their daughter off for her last year of college, Dan tells Deanna he wants a divorce, which initially upsets her a great deal until she decides to finish school once and for all. Joining her daughter on campus, Deanna becomes the sorority mom, becoming close friends with Maddie’s friends, while also embarrassing her a great deal. Deanna’s new lease on life is a rush, all the way up until a great, hilarious plot twist threatens her great relationship with her daughter.
This movie is all a bit silly, and it never takes itself too seriously, which makes that silliness work, at least somewhat. As I said in my opening, McCarthy is very over-the-top, but it mostly works here. The main problem with the humor here is that its very inconsistent. Sometimes it lands beautifully and will garner a hearty laugh, while other times it seems to miss completely, while I was left completely silent in my seat. The two best examples of this are two scenes in particular, one which works better than anything else in the movie, and the other which feels like a waste of time and space within the movie. The time waster includes Deanna delivering her oral presentation in class. It’s a perfect example of physical humor gone bad. It’s not only excessive, but it’s also excruciatingly not funny. On the other hand, the scene that really works, really works.
And not only is that scene hilarious, as it involves a rather untimely encounter while Deanna is out to dinner with some of her “adult” friends, but it also delivers the crucial plot twist in the film, which propels the plot forward to its ultimate conclusion, and gives the shenanigans which led up to this point a little more context. Comedies are tough, especially when they are hit or miss. Life of the Party is really a fun time, until it isn’t, until it is again. And I really think there’s a thoroughly entertaining movie under this, perhaps one which involves both Maya Rudolph, as Deanna’s best friend, and Gillian Jacobs, as an older sorority girl just experiencing college after an 8 year coma. They were the two best secondary characters in the film, but found themselves far too often sidelined in favor of a few other gags and characters whose presence was not nearly as welcome.
The daughter, Maddie, played by Molly Gordon, is particularly underserved. She doesn’t get many (if any) moments to herself, instead relegated to reacting and often cowering as a result of her mother’s antics. For a film that is very pro-female, celebrating the independence and pursuit of female dreams, I found it unfortunate that Deanna’s presence seems to run over Maddie throughout. That the two eventually bond is nothing organically delivered. In fact, most of the film feels rather like manufactured life lessons. I would much rather a strong story built around at least somewhat believable characters doing at least somewhat believable things. Oh, and perhaps a slightly more consistently funny film. For what it is, Life of the Party ends up being fine. It’s fine. It has laughs. But it’s not one calling me back to revisit for really hardly any reason at all.