The hilarious Melissa McCarthy has been the “Life of the Party” long before being cast in this lightweight but pleasantly amusing comedy. Together with husband Ben Falcone, who directed and co-wrote the script with her, the two give it that good old college try, after “Tammy” and “The Boss,” which were less successful than had been hoped.
With a PG-13 rating, the raunchy dialog and edgy storyline from some of McCarthy’s most notable films, such as “Bridesmaids” and “Spy,” is replaced with a more empathic and heartfelt fish-out-of-water story. Although there is a fairly large and likable cast, this is still primarily a vehicle to display McCarthy’s remarkable physical comedy assets.
In the spirit of Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School” (1986) and several similarly themed stories, middle-aged Deanna (McCarthy) returns to college. Her goal is to move on after husband Dan (Matt Walsh) leaves her for another woman (Julie Bowen). Coincidently, daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) attends the same school and the hilarity ensues.
Needless to say Maddie is not initially sold on the idea of mom hanging around, so a mother-daughter theme runs throughout. Plunging into the campus experience, the ever-outspoken Deanna, who the kids call Dee Rock, embraces her new found freedom, friends and fun on her own terms. She has an opportunity to find her true self.
One of the students marvels how Deanna is turning lemonade into lemons. Confused by that twisted logic, the girl means Deanna is reassembling her ruined life and making it like the original. Facing off a couple of mean girls, Deanna then parties with the frat-rats and much to her daughter’s dismay, has herself a wild fling with a cute frat-boy.
While saying and doing a seemingly endless string of embarrassing “mom things” to Maddie’s friends, Deanna uses her expert “mom-skills” to discover a few deep insecurities with these students and passes on sage words of wisdom. “Who knew I could make a jam out of that mess of berries!”
Always the comedian, this time McCarthy also gets to be a frumpy soccer mom. Unceremoniously dumped and humiliated by hubby to an attractive blonde effectively displays her vulnerable and empathetic side. We can then be treated to a memorable highlight. It’s one of those uncomfortable movie dinner scenes, where everyone just happens to arrive at the same location for an especially awkward discussion.
Filmed in Georgia, the story takes place at the fictional Decatur University. However, it might as well have been Watsa Mata U. Each character has issues, but maybe that is like real life. There is a very positive chemistry amongst the cast members, while everyone seems to understand their supporting role means to support their star.
Maya Rudolph is terrific as best friend Christina, while Stephen Root is charming as Deanna’s former classmate and now professor. Heidi Gardner is Deanna’s dark and bizarre roommate Lenore while Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryab and Adria Arjona effectively play the bubbly sorority sisters. They are all convincing, pleasant and just goofy enough to make it work. Finally, there is a cameo from singing pop star, Christina Aguilera.
“Life of the Party” is 105 minutes and rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying. If you’re looking for that raunchy funny lady, she’s absent this semester, but McCarthy fans will not be disappointed, in spite of, or because she is kinder, gentler more compassionate. This movie is forgettable, but a mostly pleasant experience.
This movie plays more like a Rosanne TV sitcom, where the star is in almost every scene, for good reason. There were lots of clichés, but no matter how many flaws we found, the gifted lady just puts a smile on your face. We don’t see many movies from our alma mater. Then again, not much demand to see a story from Clown College.
Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: B+