Arts movie review

A forgettable party

Melissa McCarthy’s ‘Life of the Party’ is an earnest effort, yet fails to be a memorable party

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Molly Gordon as Maddie and Melissa McCarthy as Deanna in New Line Cinema's comedy 'Life of the Party,' a Warner Bros. Pictures' release.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Life of the Party
Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Matt Walsh, Molly Gordon, Julia Bowen, and Debby Ryan
Rated PG-13
Now Playing

Life of the Party is the story of two middle-aged crises. The beginning is innocuous: Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) and Dan Miles (Matt Walsh) are dropping off their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at their alma mater, Decatur University, for her senior year of college. It’s the stereotypical college-drop off until Dan unceremoniously drops the bomb: he’s fallen in love with another woman and wants a divorce. Deanna, reeling from both learning of Dan’s infidelity and realizing personal sacrifices she made in her marriage, decides to go back to Decatur to finish the degree in Archaeology she had abandoned when she became pregnant with Maddie her senior year.

Melissa McCarthy shines in her roles as the sweet, homely mother, the overly excited, non-traditional college student, and, eventually, the “life of the party.” However, even she isn’t enough to keep this movie afloat.

Foremost, Life of the Party lacks a suspenseful plot to keep the audience’s attention. The entire premise of the movie is to catalogue Deanna’s journey through college as a 40-something-year-old woman. Thus, the viewer is always aware of the ending: Deanna will assuredly graduate.

This lack of build-up could have been acceptable if her journey as a stay-at-home parent finally getting her degree had been interesting. But, the supporting characters lack gravitas, and the subplots are riddled with plot holes. When Deanna first tells Maddie of her decision to return to college, Maddie’s reactions are somewhat muted. While the story line does attempt to showcase the evolution of Maddie’s reactions from disbelief to jealousy and finally to acceptance, it seems as if in each subsequent frame, the character is hopping to the next emotion. There is no time to actually explore how a college student must actually feel to be in the same class as their parent. The other characters are simply unrelatable: there is Helen, the girl who was in a coma for eight years and somehow has three million twitter followers;  Deanna and Maddie’s two other friends that have no distinguishing characteristics; Deanna’s agoraphobic roommate; and the two mean girls in her life, Marcie (Julia Bowen), Dan’s new girlfriend, and Jennifer (Debby Ryan), a fellow-archaeology student who mocks Deanna’s mom style and age.

All the supporting characters are largely one-dimensional, thus making for boring and somewhat unlikely sub-plots. One of the major sub-plots in the movie revolves around Deanna’s relationship with Jack (Luke Benward), a Decatur frat boy. After a one-night stand at the first college party Deanna attends, Jack falls in love with her. The big kicker in this sub-plot is that Jack is Marcie’s son. Again, a sub-plot that had potential is simply presented at the surface level. The other major sub-plot in the movie is a pitiable attempt to create some suspense: after unexpectedly getting high off of weed-laced chocolate, Deanna and her sorority sisters crash and trash Dan and Marcie’s reception. As a result, Marcie and Dan decide to cut-off Deanna so that she cannot pay for her final semester of college. But then, Deanna’s sorority sisters decide to host an epic party to help Deanna pay for college. The party is lackluster until Leonor (Heidi Gardner), Deanna’s reclusive roommate and also somehow Christina Aguilera’s cousin, brings Aguilera to the party. Instead of focusing on making Deanna’s journey more touching, this party seems unnecessary, stereotypical, and supremely unlikely.

The predictable storyline, the eccentric but unrelatable supporting characters, and superficial sub-plots make Life of the Party entirely missable despite McCarthy’s earnest efforts, thus proving that even great actors need good scripts.