Review: Life of the Party

Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone return with their next middling-verging-on-boring pedestrian comedy Life of the Party. A lack of ambition in all facets of this by-the-numbers effort is squarely aimed at middle American white women and little else. It’s not unwatchable, it’s just everyone involved this can do so much better. Lifeless.

Oh, we’ve been down this track before. Middle aged American White People go back to college for all sorts of non-pc chicanery and ballyhoo (Note: I am trying to write like I am an old biddy) in such offerings as Back To School and Old School. Whereas those films, led by the late Rodney Dangerfield and Will Ferrell respectively, upped the ante on inappropriateness and lewd comedy hijinks, this 3rd collaboration between star Melissa McCarthy and director husband Ben Falcone (The Boss, Tammy) pits a divorcee mother in the mix and drowns it in trying-to-be-admirable-but-coming-of-cloyingly-sentimental girl power.

Deanna (McCarthy) is an affable if clueless empty nester whose life is turned upside down when her husband suddenly leaves her. As crises sets in with not knowing what to do with herself, Deanna comes upon going back to college to get herself re-educated and chase those dreams she put on hold to do the family thing. As it would happen, Deanna winds up in the same class as her daughter… You know where this is going, right?

As a rapacious film watcher, I have no issues watching movies whose concepts tread familiar tropes as I am interested to see what this bunch of creatives are going to bring to it. Are they really giving the premise a red hot go or are they phoning it in? How well can they execute their story to keep me interested? Sadly, Life of the Party lacks the one real ingredient it needs to make it hit. Life.

Extracting any sense of risque or raunch and replacing it cute jabs and niceties, Life of the Party doesn’t display the ambition or drive to succeed that it tries to sell in Deanna. It relies far to heavily on McCarthy’s persona to carry you through but given it is wall to wall saccharine drenched moralising disguised as comedy, it feels like it’d ruffle the feathers of the Bible Belt Hens for a chortle here or there before sanctifying themselves, and barely make a blip on anyone else’s radar.

Yes, it’s well meaning, is pro-women (although they are all white women, clearly African Americans, Asian, Latino and other nationalities still don’t exist in colleges), and has a motivational through line, that it delivers on any of it disappoints thoroughly.

Falcone doesn’t have the wherewithal to really drive this flimsy material into something memorable than a paid working holiday for himself, his wife, and whomever they chose to fill out the cast. He’s too close to it, maybe, or too eager to coast rather than drive?

Life of the Party isn’t unwatchable, it just doesn’t amount to very much. It’s not particularly funny, there’s nothing new in it, and, although the underlying message is a sound one, its astounding lack of ambition brings the whole thing to a grinding halt.