Life of the Party (2018)
Life of the Party (2018)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: May 11th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ben Falcone Actors: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Adria Arjona, Debby Ryan, Stephen Root, Luke Benward, Chris Parnell, Jessie Ennis, Jacki Weaver, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen

 


 

F

or doting mother Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy), dropping her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off for her senior year of college at Decatur University is a moment of profound joy. Minutes later, however, Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh) informs her that he wants a divorce, turning her world upside down. Always the optimist, Deanna determines to make the best of her situation, deciding to go back to college to finish her degree in archaeology – at Decatur University. Though her daughter is initially dismayed by her mother’s continual appearances at her sorority, Theta Mu Gamma, Maddie and her friends soon cherish Deanna’s maternal nurturing and encouragement through good times, bad times, and plenty of partying. When the school year draws to a close and Deanna faces an unexpected predicament, the girls must band together to help her overcome the challenges ahead.

The opening scene establishes the majority of the premise, with a clingy mother parting from her adult daughter – and triple-checking that everything will be okay. In a matter of seconds, she bids her farewell, climbs back into the car with her husband, and gets hit with a request for divorce. McCarthy is as bubbly as ever, but in these introductory moments, not a laugh is to be found; in fact, it’s all substantially dour. Even onscreen, more tears are shed than smiles are formed. “I didn’t see it coming.”

It’s an unusual way to start a comedy, though it’s not long before typical, juvenile humor works its way into the setup. A character is hit in the groin with a ball; an irate father waves a loaded weapon around; and mother and daughter demonstrate an uncommonly positive, agreeable relationship, in which neither is afraid to speak openly about their hopes and fears. Amusingly, despite a few instances of brief embarrassment, Deanna and Maddie are both accepting of the sudden separation, as well as what could have been a terribly uncomfortable scenario of attending the same university at the same time. As in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School,” which shares a number of similarities, the ill-fitting new student manages to bring warmth and enthusiasm to a comically unlikely set of circumstances.

There may be instances of excessive school spirit and surprising bullying, but the majority of the second act is comprised of gabbing and snacking and uninspired trivialities. Zany mediation antics, an impromptu makeover in a frat house bathroom, a creepily introverted roommate, a strangely smitten hunk, and frequent partying break up the monotony of dwelling on the virtually absent realism of infidelity and financial strains, as every situation can be laughed off with the same ease in which McCarthy can fall into bouts of giggles. This plot and these characters bear little resemblance to anything genuine. Slapstick, predominantly from the aches and pains of aging, further aids a series of mom jokes and insincere revenge, drawing a strange parallel to “Tully,” except without any of the seriousness. Here, it’s all about the comedy of old versus young, responsibility versus recklessness, and maturity versus immaturity. Deanna is supposed to be the adult, but she maintains a lighthearted, upbeat playfulness in her activities, even when it comes to a primary conflict – an oral presentation on archaeology – which is, of course, barely a predicament.

“Just be yourself.” Significant conflicts are considerably transitory; this is certainly a frivolous little picture. Essentially, Deanna must transition her uncool, unpopular, and outdated role into … the life of the party. With its PG-13 rating, this goal is devoid of edginess, though it’s commendable that she’s not always the butt of the joke; McCarthy works best when she gets to win from time to time, rather than lingering in a downtrodden state. Being proud, solidifying friendships, and demonstrating pluck are befitting qualities for this comedienne’s standard persona, even when the story is overly formulaic and tidy. It’s a shame, however, that the fantasy components – namely, the outrageous ways in which characters behave around one another (along with the ludicrous resolutions) – increase toward the conclusion, resulting in a light, airy film that goes on for far too long. It it had stopped itself about five scenes earlier, it would have been a much more palatable collection of college-bound misadventures; instead, it becomes gratingly fanciful, as if a teenage fairy tale.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10