LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, possesses a positive vibe that makes it livelier and funnier than most critics are giving it credit for.
Then again, maybe I was simply influenced by the audience. I saw it in a very crowded theater, where the majority of people in the seats were women, and the loud and frequent laughter was nothing short of contagious. The folks in the theater definitely enjoyed this one.
LIFE OF THE PARTY tells a simple, albeit far-fetched, story. Right after housewife Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) drops off her daughter for her senior year of college, she learns that her husband wants a divorce. Devastated, Deanna decides to go back to college to earn the degree she gave up on when she decided to start a family.
She enrolls at the same school as her daughter, and before you can say “Toga!” she and her daughter and her daughter’s friends are all best buds and living the college dream together.
As I said, this one is definitely far-fetched. But it’s also definitely funny, as most of the jokes work, and for a comedy, you can’t really ask for more than that.
I saw this one because I’m a fan of Melissa McCarthy, and I generally enjoy her work. I have to say, she’s more than up to the task of carrying what otherwise would have been a mediocre and very silly movie. She imbues Deanna with likable characteristics that make you root for the character, but more importantly, she’s simply very funny.
When she goes to a college party and tries to fit in, the scene has all the makings of a terrible cliché, but yet McCarthy pulls it off and the audience is laughing. When she finds herself in a sexual relationship with a young college hunk, it’s ridiculous, but because of McCarthy, it’s also hilarious.
That’s one place where this film could have been much better, if it had simply been more believable. This lighthearted comedy is so unbelievable it’s nearly a fantasy, but it’s heart is in the right place, as is it’s funny bone.
And the comedy has to work on a good-natured level because the film is rated PG-13, not R, and so this isn’t a raunchy gross-out college comedy. It plays like a throwback to some of the classic comedies of yesteryear, the silly comedies of the 1960s which used to feature Doris Day. Think “Doris Day Goes Back to College” and you’ll have the right idea for how this one plays out.
McCarthy wrote the screenplay with her husband Ben Falcone, who also directed. This is their third film together, following TAMMY (2014) and THE BOSS (2016).
In spite of this one not being believable, it does get some things right. It nails the relationship between Deanna and her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon). Maddie is not too keen at first about her mother being on the same campus and hanging out with her friends, but it doesn’t take her long to change her mind and really go along with things. Their relationship is not cliché. They really do like each other, which is something you don’t see every day in a movie. And Molly Gordon is excellent as Maddie.
As is the rest of the cast. Maya Rudolph has a field day as Deanna’s best friend Christine, and she has some of the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The mediation sequence is a keeper, as is the scene with Deanna and Christine on the racket ball court.
The actresses who play Maddie’s friends all stand out, especially Gillian Jacobs as Helen, known as “Coma Girl,” as she had awoken one day after spending several years in a coma. Character actors Stephen Root and Jacki Weaver are hilarious as Deanna’s parents. And Chris Parnell is on hand as Deanna’s former classmate and now professor, who obviously has a thing for her.
The film also captures Deanna’s delight at being back in college again. It’s as if she has turned back the clock for herself.
LIFE OF THE PARTY certainly doesn’t rank with my favorite Melissa McCarthy movies. For example, THE HEAT (2013) with McCarthy and Sandra Bullock was a much funnier movie. But I’d heard this one was awful, and it really isn’t.
The best part of LIFE OF THE PARTY is it is indeed funny. I laughed a lot. The audience of women I saw it with laughed even more.
I didn’t believe any of it for a second, but since the film avoided the pitfall of associating stupidity with humor, in that it retained a sincere mood throughout, even if its situations were often far-fetched and suited more for fantasy than for a comedy, it worked, making it that rare example of a movie that I can’t say I believed but I can say that I liked.
LIFE OF THE PARTY is lively, energetic, and fun. It truly is the life of the party.