If you’re looking for a first-rate comedy with tons of laughs, “Life of the Party” is sure to disappoint. Wasted opportunities rule the day in this supposed comedy that’s not any fun. I’ve said it dozens of times but it bears repeating once more: the talented Melissa McCarthy is so much better than material like this. When your leading lady is cast in a film that’s so obviously beneath her, it becomes more glum than enjoyable.
The film was co-written by McCarthy and her husband (and the film’s director) Ben Falcone. The duo was also responsible for penning the equally awful “Tammy” and the not much better “The Boss,” and I can now flat out conclude that I do not share their sense of humor. They may make a great couple in real life, but they need to stop working together professionally.
Dumped suddenly by her husband (Matt Walsh), dedicated mom and housewife Deanna (McCarthy) decides to go back to college to finally get her degree. She’s only two semesters short of graduating and thinks it’s a great idea to join her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) for her senior year. After a quick makeover (bye bye bedazzled sweaters, thick glasses, and curly mom hair), Deanna gets a new nickname (‘Dee Rock’), becomes popular, and is the star of her archaeology class.
There’s nothing new nor exciting covered in the bland and predictable screenplay, and the supporting cast (including Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, and Heidi Gardner) shuffles along in the background with little to do. The premise of an adult going back to college is a timeless chestnut in the comedy movie arsenal (“Old School,” “Back to School”), but it takes great comedic talent to pull it off. Here everyone has plastered fake smiles on their faces in what must be an effort to remind us that gee, isn’t this fun? And if they’re having so much fun, then why isn’t the audience laughing along?
McCarthy does her best with sparse material, but most of the spotlight-stealing chuckles come from Maya Rudolph as her best friend Christine. I didn’t laugh very often in this movie but when I did, it was usually a result of Rudolph’s deadpan line delivery. I do applaud the film for placing a greater focus on verbal wisecracks and refusing to use McCarthy’s real world physique as a cheap punch line. Instead of a string of ‘fatty fall down’ jokes, she’s presented as an older overweight woman who is desired instead of being ridiculed. Deanna starts a physical relationship with a younger guy (Luke Benward) that’s played with sincerity, and she’s warmly accepted by her academic peers who are two decades her junior.
This is a timid PG-13 rated film, which means the usual bawdiness and debauchery that plagues stories like this is absent. It’s a kinder and gentler take on the college experience, if you will. Yes, there are beer soaked frat parties, booty calls in the library, and the welcome comeuppance of a mean girl, but it isn’t loaded with sex or profanity.
I’m not sure much could’ve been done to make this one a winner. “Life of the Party” is an unfunny film with a laundry list of jokes that either misfire or completely land with a thud.