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‘Life of the Party’ gets lost along the way

May 19, 2018

Melissa McCarthy movies bring with them the hope that she will ultimately find a director willing to allow her all-in persona to be featured in a vehicle that possesses the same unbridled enthusiasm.

In "Life of the Party," she follows in the cinematic collegiate footsteps of comedians Rodney Dangerfield ("Back to School") and Will Ferrell ("Old School"), playing a character who returns to academia well into middle age. With McCarthy, this would seem like a perfect setting for a strong, ribald, female-empowering romp rife with comedic potential.

Yet once again, McCarthy has chosen to work with director-husband Ben Falcone, who has previously squandered his wife's talents in such forgettable flicks as "Tammy" and "The Boss." And while one would hope that by their third outing they would have corrected past flaws, "Party" suffers from the same disjointed direction, disheveled plot and tone that steer down countless avenues, and writing that simultaneously undercuts its characters' motivations and lazily stacks scene after scene with no narrative threads.

McCarthy plays Deanna, a 40-something mom of a college senior who gets slapped with a divorce by her husband (played by Matt Walsh) while dropping their daughter (played by Molly Gordon) off for her senior year. She impulsively enrolls in the college to finish the degree she almost completed before dropping out to be a mom.

At first, her daughter is mortified ... until she's not in the next scene. Deanna soon becomes the Big Mom on Campus, thanks to an array of colorless sisters from her daughter's sorority who embrace her oddities and just want her to party.

She picks up a nemesis (played by Debby Ryan), who apparently hates her for ... well, we are never really sure. But Deanna also gets attached to a hunky college beau (played by Luke Benward), who immediately wants to drop out of college and travel the world with her because ... I guess the movie will get back to us on that one.

Meanwhile, her husband is planning a wedding with his new girlfriend (played by Julie Bowen), who is by all accounts a shrew, but he finds her overwhelmingly charming because ... um, well, that is a bit fuzzy, too. And while he footed the bills in the past, he apparently decides that he will no longer do so, leaving Deanna to wonder how she can afford to stay at school. The ladies conclude that the best way would be to throw a party. And while I will not give away the surprise cameo (for anyone who suffers to make it to the third act), let's just say that when you hear a very specific celebrity name thrown around in a film, you can rest assured they will pop their head in.

"Life of the Party" simply meanders from scene to scene without any lasting motivation or consequence built up for its actors.

And while there are a few fleeting comedic moments, too many are left to linger far past their expiration date (a scene in which Deanna gets flop sweat when giving a speech starts off with a few chuckles, but forces McCarthy to flail about far too long). Even worse, the film seems to have collective amnesia in light of an opportune joke. For example, Deanna refers to "Harry Potter" in an earlier scene with her daughter, only to seem perplexed when someone refers to Dumbledore in a later scene.

"Party" is not as incoherent as "The Boss," McCarthy's previous collaboration with her husband, but still suffers from all the same issues in pacing, direction, development and purpose to exist. Like a student too lazy to do any research for a term paper, "Party" seems to be content with just copying and pasting bits from similar comedies and passing it off as a finished project.

Perhaps next time, McCarthy and Falcone should attend a few more study sessions before simply turning in their first draft.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.