Life of the Party (2018) Review
A FLIMSY PASSING GRADE
(THAT DOESN’T GRADUTE
Actress Melissa McCarthy has become a staple of comedy movies, with being featured in one or two motion pictures a year for several years now. While she does have the necessary acting talents to be in comedic feature film, McCarthy has become known for being both big (rotund) and using her foul-mouth language throughout many of her roles in movies. In 2011, with the film Bridesmaids as her break-out role, McCarthy unveiled her raunchy “potty” mouth angst to viewers everywhere, producing such hits in the coming years, including 2013’s buddy cop film The Heat, 2015’s spoof of the spy genre Spy, and the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters. On the other hand, McCarthy still has some comedy misfires in her career with films like 2013’s Identity Thief and 2014’s Tammy. In amongst her prominent roles in comedy features, McCarthy has started to dabble in more drama roles, including 2014’s St. Vincent and 2018’s future release of Can You Ever Forgive Me? Thus, like a lot of actors, McCarthy has some lows as well as highs. Now Warner Bros. Pictures (New Line Cinema) and director Ben Falcone bring forth the latest comedy angst of McCarthy with the movie Life of the Party. Does this 2018 release from McCarthy find its humor in foul-mouth body of work or is it another dud in her film career?
Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) is a dedicated wife and mother who dropped out of her college during her senior year in order to provide for her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon). Flash forward to the present finds Maddie a college senior herself, with Deanna and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) to start the phase of their lives (i.e. a romantic vacation to Europe). Unfortunately, before their vacation could begin, Dan drops a bombshell on Deanna; desiring for a divorce for her and is already seeing someone else whom he intends to marry. Additionally, Dan also plans to sell their house right away (i.e. the property is in his name), leaving Deanna heartbroken and left without plan for future. After taking some time to pull herself back together from such news, Deanna, desiring to do the one thing she always regretted not doing, heads back to college to finish her bachelors degree in archaeology and graduate from college. Thus, Deanna jumps head first back into the college experience on her campus stomping grounds at Decatur University, which so happens to be the same school that Maddie is attending. At first, Maddie is naturally uncomfortable with having her mom on campus (as a student), but she comes around to the idea as she and Deanna settle in for a rather unexpected and wild senior year together.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As stated above, Melissa McCarthy has certainly become a “tour de force” in recent years, providing enough of a mark on the comedy genre. Whether you’re a fan of her or not, McCarthy sure knows how to generate laughs with a feature film (regardless if she’s starring in the lead role or as a supporting one). Like many, my two personal favorite McCarthy movies would have to be The Heat and Spy. While Spy did have little more of a story to it (and I think is the better of the two), The Heat did supply a ton of laughs, especially since McCarthy was paired with Sandra Bullock (who made a surprising turn in the comedy department). However, her other films like Identity Thief and Tammy were definitely low points in McCarthy’s body of work, feeling sluggish and downright unfunny feature films, which is disappointing for being a comedy film. As for her two 2016 movies (i.e. The Boss and Ghostbusters), I kind of sort of like them. The Boss definitely played to McCarthy’s strengths in her crude jokes and gas (yet lacked a good narrative and substance, while The Ghostbusters proved to be a good vehicle for McCarthy to drive (along with her female lead co-stars), but was just a simply an unnecessary remake to do. Still, both releases had enough gumption to stand on their own two feet.
This, of course, brings me to Life of the Party, which is McCarthy’s latest film of the 2018 movie season (Can You Ever Forgive Me? is her other 2018 release). Naturally, much like what I said above, McCarthy usually has one or two feature films lined up each year, so it’s a given that one would show up towards the somewhere in the first half of the 2018 year. I really didn’t hear much Life of the Party online until the trailer was released. While I didn’t post the film’s trailer on my blog (sorry about that), I did see more than enough times when I went to my weekly “movie night” outings at my local theater. Judging by the trailer, the movie looked like what I would expect from a Melissa McCarthy feature, finding the comedic actress in a comfortable role and surrounding herself with some other “secondary” supporting talent as well in a crazy “out of the box” / “fish out of water” narrative for McCarthy to play in. Being a somewhat fan of McCarthy’s body work, I decide to go ahead and see Life of the Party during its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, Life of the Party stays well within the comfort zone of Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone’s recent movie endeavors together, playing to both the strengths and weaknesses that usually come with the collaboration together. In short, the film isn’t a complete misfire, but the flimsy story being told is a farcry from McCarthy’s best work.
Life of the Party is directed by Ben Falcone, who is Melissa McCarthy’s husband in real life. Falcone, who has directed such other McCarthy feature films such as Identity Thief, Tammy, and The Boss seems to have improved on his directorial skills, finding Life of the Party more polished than some of his recent endeavors at helming movies. While Tammy is somewhat widely accepted as a more definite “low point” of his McCarthy focused features, Falcone seems utilize a better knowledge and understand when approaching Life of the Party, which is more capable of juggling scenes than require more heartfelt (albeit with comedy film gloves on) and more room for broader comedy skits that play up the overall wackiness that the characters find themselves in. Naturally, with McCarthy being the lead actress of the movie, Falcone does give her plenty of room to improvise and use her acting talents, utilizing her involvement in the feature as the driving force behind most of the narrative being told. To his credit, Falcone seems to have a strong holding on what he wants to convey in the movie, which means that the movie sort of flows much better than most of his previous directorial works. All in all, while Falcone’s McCarthy movies are a stepped down from director Paul Feig’s McCarthy films, his talent behind the camera as improved and it shows within Life of the Party.
In terms of technical presentation, Life of the Party looks like your standard comedy movie for a 2018 release. This means that the film meets the industry standards for a feature film in the comedy genre, including production design (Rusty Smith), set decorations (Amy McGary), cinematography (Julio Macat), and musical score (Fil Eisler). Thus, the overall filmmaking presentation of the film is even keel and “okay”, being neither exceptionally great nor deplorably bad. However, within the comedy genre of a film like this, I really don’t judge too hard or look under heavy scrutiny in this technical presentation. Overall, Life of the Party’s look and feel is acceptable (no more, no less).
Unfortunately, Life of the Party is not really the “mother of all” college aspect / nuances movies that the film’s promo marketing material make it up to be. Perhaps the most notable one (that’s sort of eyes to spot) is the film’s narrative. The premise setup (i.e. a 40 something year old mother goes back to college and it’s the same college that her daughter attends) is essentially a flimsy idea that seems more in line for SNL skit scene or rather an episode plot for a half-hour comedy TV show than a feature length film. Thus, the overall plot of the movie is very much paper-thin and flimsy that (at times) has hard time in following a proper path. Yes, Falcone is a more capable director when helming this feature, but the overall story is hard to believe and falls more flat on its face than standing upright. This also extends to the film’s script, which was penned by both Falcone and McCarthy, that has numerous plot holes and weak elements that are scattered throughout the narrative plot. There’s also several sub-plot ideas that are sort of “glossed” over (i.e. Maddie’s initial resentment of having her mother attend the same college university and Deanna’s odd romantic “hook-up” attraction to college boy Jack, Deanna’s phobia of public speaking for her semester presentation, etc.) and are left in an unsatisfying note. Heck, the movie even tries throw in a somewhat “mean girl” antagonist for Deanna, Maddie, and several other friends to confront several times, which ultimately ends up being pointless and is merely presented for some attempt of amusing dialogue scenes. In truth, the movie seems more like a series of skits as the film’s central idea of a plot sort of gets lost (many times) along the way in favor of trying to muster up vague laughs and some wacky scenarios. Even the standard scenarios found in a college atmosphere (in a movie world) are presented with such blandness that Falcone doesn’t really try to bring anything new to the table. To be honest, Life of the Party could’ve been something quite hilarious and memorable, if only Falcone and McCarthy wrote a better script.
As for the comedy in the movie, it’s sort of hit or miss (but mostly miss). There are a few comedic bits (be it crude jokes or sight gags) that are able to produce laughs within me, but most of the humorous nuances throughout the film are pretty weak and seem mostly unfunny, which is mostly due to the lack of creativity behind the various jokes. Naturally, this is a big and crucial point to make in a comedy genre film and Life of the Party fails to live up to that moniker. Yes, the movie does have a few laughs, but its in short supplies and just simply lacks a sharpness in comedic dialogue and physical gags. Additionally (and I know that this is a minor complaint), how is the college university (in the movie) able to accept Deanna in the new semester? Clearly, the new fall semester is about to start (as seeing in the opening scene where Deanna and Dan are dropping Maddie off for school), so how does Deanna get in? Surely, the college (as seen in the movie) doesn’t look like a community college, so that would mean that Deanna would have to be re-enrolled back into the school via letter of admission. The movie never really addresses that notion as she decides to go back to school and BAM…she’s back in college and attending classes. Furthermore, how does the college’s administrative staff allow Deanna, who has been absent for more than two decades, allow to keep her old standing college credits. Surely, with such a long absent from the subject, that the college board would want to uphold the credibility and deny her senior status and the credits she accumulated all those years ago. If a college and / or university did that in real life…. sign me up for the next semester! I know this sounds like a stretch of just trying to find a negative complaint in the film (even for a movie world), but still its hard to ignore those said facts. I guess Falcone and McCarthy (again who both wrote the film’s script) forgot to address that issues and tried to sweep it underneath the rug when laying out the movie’s story / plot.
The cast in Life of the Party is a mixture of known and unknown comedic acting talents from various media projects. Naturally (at the head of the pack), is actress Melissa McCarthy, who headlines the feature as main protagonist character Deanna “Dee Rock” Miles. Given the nature of movie as well as being the main lead, McCarthy certainly does handle herself well in the role of Deanna, playing up the awkward goofy / quirks that a middle-age mother who gets a sort of millennial “culture shock” of how college life is presented nowadays. While she’s perfectly fine in the role, McCarthy’s acting talents are not at their best (more dull, less sharp) than some of her past performances in similar comedies. To me, McCarthy shines (and shines the brightest) is when she’s verbally “ripping” someone up (see her roles in The Heat, Spy, and The Boss) and Life of the Party doesn’t even utilize that somewhat trademark persona, which is one of McCarthy’s best attributes. Thus, McCarthy’s Deanna gets the job done in the movie (always committed to the role from start to finish), but the meekly manned mother doesn’t outweigh some of her more better (and memorable) performances of her career.
The more secondary characters in Life of the Party are, more or less, surround McCarthy’s Deanna in the movie. This includes actress Molly Gordon (Love the Coopers and Animal Kingdom) as Deanna’s college senior daughter Maddie, actor Matt Walsh (Veep and Into the Storm) as Maddie’s dad / Deanna’s recently ex-husband Dan Miles, and actress Maya Rudolph (Sisters and Bridesmaids) as Deanna’s neurotic best friend Christine Davenport. While Walsh’s Dan is merely in the movie to act as a catalyst to propel the movie’s events forwards (mostly in the beginning), Gordon’s Maddie does have a few touching moments with McCarthy’s Deanna; sharing the quasi-close-knit mother / daughter relationship (even though it’s a bit more of a movie version of the relationship rather than more real / concrete one. Again, I’m echoing to what I said above about how the movie playing up some of the ridiculous elements). However, of the trio, perhaps the absolute best (perhaps even slightly more memorable than McCarthy’s Deanna) would have to be Rudolph’s Christine. While she’s not necessarily an essential role in the film’s narrative (her character could easily be removed without damaging the core plot), but Rudolph makes the character quite memorable with her dialogue line (in both delivery and in timing). To be honest, she actually has the best comedic lines of the entire film, which is sort of not a good thing in the movie’s grand scheme (if you know what I mean).
The rest of the cast, which is more in smaller supporting roles, that includes actress Gillian Jacobs (Community and Walk of Shame) as sorority sister Helen (her bit as “coma girl” is kind of movie gag that runs throughout the movie), actress Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim: Uprising and Emerald City) as sorority sister Amanda, actress Jessie Ennis (Love and Family) as another sorority sister Debbie, actress Debby Ryan (Sing it! and Jessie) as college student mean girl Jennifer, actor Luke Benward (How to Eat Fried Worms and We Were Soldiers) as college frat boy Jack (who is infatuated with Deanna), actress Heidi Gardner (SuperMansion and Saturday Night Live) as Deanna’s eccentric goth roommate Leonor, actor Damon Jones (The Looney Tunes Show and Tammy) as Christine’s husband Frank Davenport, actress Julie Bowen (Modern Family and Happy Gilmore) as Dan’s newer and younger wife Marcie Strong, and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook) and actor Stephen Root (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Boardwalk Empire) as Deanna’s parents Sandy and Mike. I’m not saying that these performances are badly acted (most of these actors / actresses I have seeing in other projects), but it’s just that their characters development is so weak and cookie cutter (i.e. the ditzy one, the weird gothic, the mean girl, the “easy on the eyes” guy, the superfluous new wife, etc.) that most of the characters are just simply throwaway roles…. a sort of window dressing for the film. Thus, their overall involvement in Life of the Party is just to bolster certain scenes here and there and nothing more. In short, while each one has one particular scene (or some quirky idiosyncrasy), most of these characters in the movie are completely forgettable.
After a 22-year-old hiatus from the realm of colligate opportunities, Deanna Miles heads back to college (with her daughter) and gets ready for a zany senior year in the film Life of the Party. Director Ben Falcone’s latest movie reteams with his comedic wife and sets the stage for some wild and wacky angst of the age gap in seeing a McCarthy’s character trying to learn the “ropes” of attending college in today’s world. Unfortunately, while the movie finds its stride in certain scenes and its overall presentation (mostly within its cast), the film itself struggles maintain its sense of motivation, falling prey to superfluous ideas and scenarios, lacking substance depth (even for a comedy feature), flat / uninteresting side characters, and missing more than hitting its comedic jokes and gags. Personally, I thought this movie was okay (more the adequate mediocre side of things). The movie had its moments in both amusing entertainment and humorous bits, but it just felt laxed in its substance department and could’ve been more creatively well-rounded in both in front and behind the camera. Furthermore, the movie itself isn’t exactly a high-demand comedy film to being seeing in theaters, so I would probably say that this movie would get a “rent it” recommendation for me (steadfast fans of McCarthy’s work will probably gravitate towards this movie more than causal moviegoers would). In a nutshell (speaking to Falcone’s films with McCarthy) I think Life of the Party is better than Identity Theft and Tammy, but isn’t quite as good as The Boss was. At the end of the day, Life of the Party is like lightweight comfort food; easy to digest and more accessible to the masses, but lacks that necessary kick to be memorable, which barely passes its grading curve in today’s world of comedy movies. Let’s hope that McCarthy decides to team up with director Paul Feig sometime soon….
3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Rent It)
Released On: May 11th, 2018
Reviewed On: May 13th, 2018
Life of the Party is 105 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content, and partying