(2018) (Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Comedy: After being dumped by her husband, a woman returns to finish classes at her alma mater, much to the shock of her daughter who's starting her senior year there.
- After dropping off their daughter, Maddie (MOLLY GORDON), for her senior year at Decatur University, Deanna (MELISSA McCARTHY) and Dan (MATT WALSH) -- who both went to school there long ago -- are seemingly headed home when he states he wants to end their two-decade-plus marriage as he's fallen in love with real estate agent Marcie (JULIE BOWEN) and wants an upgrade in both his life and wife departments. Deanna is shocked at the news and that he's selling their house (which is in his name), thus prompting her to move back home with her parents, Sandy (JACKI WEAVER) and Mike (STEPHEN ROOT).
With the encouragement from her best friend, Christine (MAYA RUDOLPH), Deanna then decides to go back to Decatur -- where she dropped out when she became pregnant with Maddie -- and get her archaeology degree. That initially doesn't sit well with Maddie who's horrified at the thought of them being classmates, but she quickly warms to the idea as do Maddie's close friends and sorority sisters, Helen (GILLIAN JACOBS), Amanda (ADRIA ARJONA) and Debbie (JESSIE ENNIS). Less excited is Denna's dorm roommate, Leonor (HEIDI GARDNER), an odd shut-in who gives everyone creepy vibes. Also less than thrilled is the mean girl duo of Jennifer (DEBBY RYAN) and Trina (YANI SIMONE) who think it's sad and pathetic that someone as old as Deanna is attending college.
Undeterred, Deanna returns to her classes and school work with reckless abandon, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have time to party with her daughter and friends. During one such event she meets hunky classmate Jack (LUKE BENWARD) and the two enter into a fast-moving love affair, something Deanna swears is just a one-time thing until it happens again and again. As the school year wears on, Deanna works hard to graduate, all while contending with her relationship with Jack, repeated put-downs by the mean girls, and news that Dan and Marcie are getting married.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- It's not unusual for high school graduates to enter college without any sense of direction or urgency. For some, it's the fear of trying to decide one's future for the next several decades and thus paralysis through analysis sets in. For others, they seem to think things will fall into place for them through some form of serendipity. And many of the rest simply skated through their earlier years of education without much thought and went along with the predetermined and prescribed flow and believe the same will now occur.
Whatever the reason, showing up at college without a plan usually isn't a good idea. And that's because result is zigzagging through classes, floundering about without any direction, and ending up wanting to escape and have fun via the various stereotypical distractions that pop up along the journey.
The same holds true for making a movie about someone going to college, especially, say, if they dropped out more than two decades ago to have a baby and are now trying to get their life back together after their husband has dumped them right after dropping off their daughter for her senior year at their alma mater.
Such is the case with "Life of the Party" that some may have incorrectly figured -- based only on hearing the premise being Melissa McCarthy playing a middle-aged woman returning to school -- was just a gender reversal remake of sorts of the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield comedy "Back to School."
While it provides some decent laughs and amusing moments, it's a comedy without any real direction that ends up distracted by showcasing its singular moments rather than focusing on creating a complete movie with an A to Z path for its protagonist to travel along.
There's decent if not entirely original potential in the premise concocted by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (who also directs). All sorts of things have changed on campuses and in college life over the past several decades, and a smart script could focus on that as well as what a person with real-world experience could bring to the classroom (think of Kathleen Turner doing something slightly akin in "Peggy Sue Got Married").
Then there's the matter of dear old mom ending up at the same school as her daughter (Molly Gordon) and the comedic (or dramatic) turmoil that would obviously generate, just like the May-December romance subplot (where Luke Benward plays a college student who falls in love with the mom).
Alas, McCarthy and Falcone skim over much of the potential, as if creating a CliffsNotes version rather than digging deep through the material for comedy gold. The bigger issue, however, is that there simply isn't much story present. After it's established that the husband (Matt Walsh) is leaving Deanna for a real estate agent (Julie Bowen) and the divorcee goes back to college, not much else happens beyond a number of standalone moments.
Those include (but are not limited to) the protagonist partying; doing the walk of shame; unknowingly ingesting pot and ending up high; sweating like Albert Brooks during a class presentation; dealing with two mean girls (played by Debby Ryan and Yani Simone); dancing 1980s style; and occasionally interacting with her roughly same-aged best friend (Maya Rudolph) who has her interest in public sex rekindled by Deanna's extracurricular activities.
I'll admit a few moments of some of that had me laughing, but not enough to ignore that there simply isn't much story holding those moments together. Even in a comedy, there has to be drama and conflict in regard to the protagonist's goal, but like many a college student, there's no clear direction here. Instead, there are only standalone scenes that revolve around the stereotypical movie college experience. And that's not enough to earn "Life of the Party" a passing grade. It rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed May 8, 2018 / Posted May 11, 2018
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