Melissa McCarthy’s latest movie, Life of the Party, tells the story of Deanna Miles (McCarthy) – a woman rebounding from her divorce by going to back to college…with her daughter [hilarity begins to ensue].
A movie with the premise of an awkward mom going back to school is perfect for the comedic skills McCarthy possesses. There are plenty of flubs and fumbles, physical comedy at every turn, and an aggressive amount of mom jokes in the script.
Life of the Party primarily focuses on Deanna acclimating to campus life in 2018. Her journey is surrounded by bonding with her daughter’s sorority sisters, her husband and his new wife’s antics (played by Matt Walsh and Julie Bowen). Of course a movie like this isn’t complete without giving Deanna an uncomfortably young love interest, played by Luke Benward.
McCarthy’s uncanny ability to play a mom-in-crisis should be what drives the film. McCarthy may be in the driver’s seat, but the people steering the film are its supporting cast of women. Gillian Jacobs is great as Helen aka Coma Girl. Maya Rudolph is great as always and has one of the film’s best moments during a dinner sequence. And Heidi Gardner steals the show as Leonor, Deanna’s Goth roommate.
The supporting cast puts in an All-Star effort to keep the comedy consistent and make the story a lot more entertaining than it should be. Even with their herculean effort, it’s not enough to rescue the film from drowning in mediocrity.
The mother-daughter relationship should be one of the film’s highlights but it’s what sinks the movie. Besides Molly Gordon (she plays Deanna’s daughter Maddie) sleepwalking through this performance, she has very little chemistry with McCarthy. The bonding and the evolution of their relationship should be the heart of the story, instead their scenes together don’t work well at all. It’s even more apparent when McCarthy has 1,000 times more chemistry with the young women who in the sorority.
For all its well earned laughs, the story is a string of jokes/funny moments stitched together in an attempt to create a narrative story. A lot of what happens never really makes sense – Deanna is an outgoing extrovert but has a fear of public speaking. Her daughter is a senior in college, yet her parents drop her off like she’s a freshman. Deanna’s daughter is upset with her until she miraculously isn’t. The “mean girls” are mean until they aren’t. The two mean girls belong in a different movie – they look like they got lost filming a 90’s teen drama and accidentally wandered on set.
There are plenty of films that trek in the same tropes, but Life of the Party isn’t funny enough to overcome that hurdle. The story is so rushed to get to the finale; it doesn’t explore the aspects of Deanna’s story that make it funny.
For Melissa McCarthy fans, Life of the Party may be the film for you. For others, the scenes that run a little too long and the multitude of mom jokes may be a little much. Life of the Party attempts to be a fun comedy but it ultimately ends up being more forgettable than funny.