×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Life of the Party’

Belly up to the frat bar. Melissa McCarthy's fun wish-fulfillment comedy about a back-to-school divorcée is as sweet as a lemon drop shot.

Director:
Ben Falcone
With:
Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Molly Gordon, Debby Ryan, Heidi Gardner, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen.
Release Date:
May 11, 2018

Rated PG-13  1 hour 45 minutes

As karmic balance for running over Melissa McCarthy with a car in “Tammy,” director Ben Falcone starts “Life of the Party” chauffeuring his comedian wife in an Uber. A minute before, her character Deanna was dropping off daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at a sorority house for her senior year of college when Deanna’s husband of 23 years, Dan (Matt Walsh), announced he wants a divorce to marry his mistress (Julie Bowen). McCarthy’s sweatshirt-bedazzled homemaker is crushed, but instead of this big, broad comedy mocking her misery, Falcone looks her in the eye and beams, “You’re such a great lady, Deanna.” With that, the five-star-rated fairy godfather speeds out of the movie, having set the tone for a pleasant adventure about Deanna’s re-enrollment in college to finish her own degree — the movie equivalent in these R-rated gross-out days of swaggering up to the frat party bar and ordering a chardonnay, which she does.

Life of the Party” is stubbornly nice. What a surprise. Too often, McCarthy’s been typecast as the butt of the joke, even when her husband’s behind the camera and she’s co-written the script (as she also does here). Her best roles in the Paul Feig movies “Bridesmaids” and “Spy” find her parrying judgments and charging past rejection until she proves her worth. This is a heartier celebration of McCarthy’s talents, a mash note to a comic who can also play flirtatious, empathetic, and human. She’s believable, even if the scenes setting-off her performance aren’t.

When Deanna strides onto the dance floor of an ’80s costume bash in Dynasty-inspired sequins to grind to the Sugarhill Gang, she’s fabulous. A hunky young student named Jack (Luke Benward) is infatuated: “What a woman.” Even her walk-of-shame from his room is more like a giggling strut — less so for Maddie, whose own boyfriend (Jimmy O. Yang) bunks across the hall.

Besides the audience wondering if this entire comedy can be fueled on sugar — mostly, yes — there’s little suspense. Can Deanna finish her archeology degree before her ex-husband’s support payments run out? Of course. Must we fret that she’ll accept Jack’s offer to throw away her education — again — to backpack across Europe? Mais non! Even her goth roommate Leonor (SNL’s Heidi Gardner), a vampire who never leaves their dorm, is cleanly and charmingly defanged. “You like to dig up stuff, I like to bury stuff,” nods Leonor. They can coexist.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t drag out Maddie’s annoyance that her mother is squatting on her senioritis — no need to swap one lead harpy for another. The girl sighs and attempts to shuffle Deanna out of her sorority house, but quickly gives in to her friends’ insistence that hanging out with her mom is totally dope, even if her mom chases shots of tequila with toasts to equal pay, cleaner oceans, “and full maternity leave for non-gender specific working parents!”

The most nerve-wracking scene is simply watching Deanna give an oral presentation with extreme stage fright that triggers her to sweat through her clothes. Once again, instead of Falcone elbowing us to sneer at her pit stains like the film’s one over-the-top snob (played with zest by Debby Ryan), he aligns us with Deanna’s friend and classmate Helen (Gillian Jacobs), who stares down the haters and cheers her buddy on. Jacobs’ Helen is a weirdo herself, a local legend who spent eight years in a coma (hence her own age gap) and has emerged mainly to shade a quietly deranged humor into the margins of the film. Jacobs is always hilarious, but here she’s embracing the kind of Kate McKinnon-style surrealism where she gets laughs just from her pronunciation of “candle.”

There’s a makeover, of course (gotta get Deanna into skinny denim even though, ironically, mom jeans are on trend), plus an accidental drug bacchanal and a slow-motion destruction spree — the holy trinity of modern humor. More inspired scenes pair McCarthy with Maya Rudolph and invite the two longtime friends to dominate everything from a mediation session to a racquetball court to a suffocating dinner with their older friends who act their age — and worse, the ones who don’t and show up at the restaurant with awkward new ear piercings.

McCarthy’s Deanna isn’t changing herself for the world, it’s making room for her, and if “Life of the Party’s” sparkling arc from sad acoustic guitars to Christina Aguilera anthems has any serious intention, she and Falcone want to salute the wonders women can accomplish when they band together. What Deanna contributes on her magical journey is her certainty that these girls will become incredible women — and her insistence that they should seize their powers now. McCarthy sees their potential. Glad Hollywood finally sees hers.

Film Review: 'Life of the Party'

Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Los Angeles, May 9, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: A New Line Cinemas presentation of a Warner Bros., On the Day production. Producers: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy. Co-producer: Steve Mallory. Executive producers: Falcone, McCarthy, David Siegel.

Crew: Director: Ben Falcone. Screenplay: Falcone, Melissa McCarthy. Camera (color): Julio Macat. Editor: Brian Scott Olds. Music: Fil Eisler.

With: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Molly Gordon, Debby Ryan, Heidi Gardner, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen.

More Film

  • Aquaman

    China Box Office: ‘Aquaman’ Sinks All Challengers With $94 Million Opening

    The decision to release “Aquaman” in China two weeks prior to its North American outing paid off handsomely. The DC Comics adaptation achieved a massive $94.1 million opening in three days, according to data from Asian entertainment consultancy Artisan Gateway. The early release meant that the film played against weak opposition – tired Hollywood and [...]

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for

    IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for ‘On The Job’ Franchise

    Filipino director Erik Matti is known for his eclectic body of work that includes “Honor Thy Father” and “Seklusyon.” His 2013 effort, “On The Job” travelled widely and won several awards including two at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for an SACD Prize at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. Matti is at [...]

  • Joan Chen attends the season premiere

    Joan Chen Talks Diversity in Hollywood, Welcomes #MeToo

    Chinese-American actress, writer and director Joan Chen says that she was flattered when Time magazine described her as the “Elizabeth Taylor of China.” When asked at an in-conversation event in Singapore on Saturday whether she paved the way for Chinese actresses to follow in Hollywood, Chen said, “We never go to work because we want [...]

  • Kyzza Terrazas Joins Garcia Bernal, Diego

    Kyzza Terrazas Joins Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna’s La Corriente del Golfo (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Launching their new production house, La Corriente de Golfo, last April, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna have tapped Mexican writer-director Kyzza Terrazas as the company’s head of development. The appointment will certainly help build the company appointing an old-rounder capable of overseeing and implementing development, writing and directing, and a longtime [...]

  • IFFAM Actress in Focus: Yao Chen

    IFFAM Actress in Focus: Yao Chen Talks Performing, Producing and Public Pressure

    Macao’s Actress in Focus is a woman who has trained as a boxer, likes British actors, especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeremy Irons, and is now setting out her stall as a producer. Yao Chen has built a career over 20 years thanks to TV shows including “My Own Swordsman,” and films including “If You Are [...]

  • Bradley Liew's 'Motel Acacia' Shoots After

    Cautionary Tale, 'Motel Acacia' Under Way After Four Years of Development

    Production has begun on Malaysian director Bradley Liew’s upscale horror film “Motel Acacia.” With a clearly topical message, the film features a hotel bed that eats immigrants. Actor, JC Santos called it: “A cautionary tale of what’s going to happen in the future.” Indonesian star, Nicholas Saputra said the he agreed to the role “because [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content