May 11, 2018 8:30 am

‘Life of the Party’ review: Melissa McCarthy college movie barely gets a passing grade

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There’s no question about Melissa McCarthy‘s comedy chops. She’s an exceedingly funny woman, and she’s proven it in past movies like The Heat and Bridesmaids, not to mention her years on TV.

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In Life of the Party, McCarthy’s character Deanna heads back to college to finish her archaeology degree after being dumped by her longtime husband (Matt Walsh). Deanna’s daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), just so happens to be a senior at her alma mater, so they end up at the same university. It’s fertile ground for hilarity.

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Not a bad premise, either, though we’ve seen it done before. And unfortunately, for McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (the duo penned this movie together), the script never elevates beyond typical clichés. Its PG-13 rating doesn’t help, blocking McCarthy from falling back to her swearing and vulgar diatribes, which quite often are some of her funniest onscreen moments.

Is Melissa McCarthy funny in this?

She does her best. A handful of scenes are laugh-out-loud funny — usually, those involving physical comedy, McCarthy’s strength — but the majority bring lukewarm laughs. The strangest thing about Life of the Party is how many jokes fall completely flat; some are even cringeworthy.

While Deanna starts off the movie being a typical “mom,” replete with thick, garish sweaters and a perm-like hairstyle, eventually Maddie gives her a makeover so she can fit in at the college. This makes her looser and (sort of) funnier, but ultimately no amount of physical transformation can redeem the predictable humour throughout.

Does the supporting cast help redeem the movie?

McCarthy works better with a comedy foil, and excels especially in ensemble casts. So her scenes with co-star Maya Rudolph (as best friend Christine), who’s hilarious in her own right, tend to be funnier than the rest. The scenes of Deanna interacting with Maddie’s roommates and other students at the school derive a few chuckles, but for the most part are so unrealistic it’s hard to find them funny.

Who among us, especially at university, would choose to hang out with our mother, no matter how cool she is? The answer to that is: nobody. Maddie’s friends are so enamoured with Deanna that it almost borders on obsession, and it’s ridiculous to think that a group of university-aged women would seek out their friend’s mom on every social occasion.

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One unexpected treat is Julie Bowen (Modern Family) as Deanna’s husband’s new love interest. She is so deliciously awful that it’s a pleasure to watch her scenes.

How’s the plot?

The weird thing about this movie is that there really isn’t a plot, aside from Deanna returning to college. Sure, things happen to her there, like potential love interests, her time in archaeology class, accidentally getting high on laced chocolate, going to frat parties — but it all seems so by-the-book and, at times, boring, which is a cardinal sin for a comedy movie.

Another thing: Deanna is fearless in every way. She returns to college despite being of “mature” age, she goes to parties full of kids and draws all of the attention, she stands up for herself to the class bullies; she even participates in a very public dance-off. Yet we’re supposed to believe that this same woman has a phobia of public speaking, which becomes a semi-major plot point towards the end. It’s another example of the movie’s incongruity.

WATCH BELOW: Melissa McCarthy talks ‘Life of the Party’

So what’s the bottom line?

Fans of McCarthy may enjoy this movie more than the average audience member, but even big fans will find something lacking. Mindless entertainment with a few laughs here and there is essentially Life of the Party‘s M.O. Predictable and nothing special, this movie will eventually fade into the memory bank as that time Melissa McCarthy went back to college.

‘Life of the Party’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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