Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 31, 2018)
A comedy reminiscent of 1986’s Back to School, 2018’s Life of the Party introduces us to Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy), a middle-aged housewife. When her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) declares a desire to divorce, she feels left adrift.
To help herself move forward, Deanna decides to complete the college degree she left unfinished in her youth. This sends her to Decatur University alongside her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon), a senior who seems less than excited to watch her mom’s midlife crisis explode.
Ever since she became a star in the wake of 2011’s Bridesmaids, McCarthy has delivered fairly reliable returns at the box office. That said, she shows signs of waning success, as many of her movies have displayed a downward trajectory in terms of sales.
With one exception – 2013’s Identity Thief - all of the McCarthy’s lead roles come from movies directed either by Paul Feig or Ben Falcone. Of the three post-Bridesmaids McCarthy/Feig efforts, they’ve earned between $110 million and $159 million in the US.
As for the McCarthy/Falcone projects, they range from a high of $84 million for 2014’s Tammy to a low of $52 million for Party, with 2016’s The Boss in the middle. Maybe McCarthy needs to shun Falcone for Feig on a full-time basis, but that might cause havoc at home given that Melissa and Ben live as a married couple.
Neither Tammy nor The Boss did much for me, but I held out some hope Party might entertain. Hey, if the premise worked for Rodney Dangerfield, why couldn’t it succeed for McCarthy?
Apparently not. While McCarthy boasts talent as a comedic actor, she struggles to carry a movie on her own, and that becomes a drawback here.
Or perhaps this comes back to the Feig/Falcone split. For whatever reason, Feig seems able to get the best out of McCarthy, whereas Falcone can’t do much with her.
Maybe Falcone is too close to McCarthy to challenge her in the same way Feig does, and it may not help that McCarthy and Falcone wrote all three of their movies together. Perhaps their talents – or lack thereof – as screenwriters creates the steep decline in quality from the Feig flicks to the Falcones.
Whatever the cause, I know one thing for sure: Tammy and The Boss didn’t work, and Party becomes another dud. Its cast musters the occasional minor chuckle but the end product feels tedious and boring.
Party tends toward two kind of jokes: “mom on campus” gags or vagina wisecracks. Neither of these feel clever, and both get tiresome quickly.
Like Back to School, Party exists more as a concept than a narrative. Sure, it attempts some “self-realization” for Deanna, but for the most part, it just tries to generate laughs via its situations.
This succeeded in School because Dangerfield made it work, but as implied, McCarthy can’t carry the load. Burdened by a cliché-ridden script, she flails and doesn’t churn out much mirth.
It doesn’t help that the movie changes its characters almost at random to fit the different situations – especially poor Maddie. One minute she resents her mother’s presence on campus, and the next she’s super-happy about it.
Why does this happen? Because the crummy script says so – there’s no logic or organic purpose to the shift other than it suits the next series of lousy jokes.
Both Feig and Falcone tend to let their movies run too long, but at least Feig’s manage real entertainment. In the case of Party, scenes grind on interminably and threaten to never end.
No, superior editing wouldn’t save the film – and as a glimpse at the Blu-ray’s deleted scenes demonstrates, many of these segments originally lasted even longer, so maybe I should feel grateful Falcone trimmed them at all. Nonetheless, a lot of these sequences drone on well past the point of productivity and make an unfunny movie even more aggravating.
I’m not saying Melissa McCarthy should only work with Paul Feig, but… actually, I am saying that, as her comedies with others have been mediocre to poor. Life of the Party continues that trend and becomes a dull excuse for a comedy.