Do Melissa McCarthy movies get less funny as she gets more famous? Life of the Party, McCarthy’s latest collaboration with her writer-director husband Ben Falcone, suggests yes. What sounds like a riotous, cringeworthy premise doesn’t deliver in the way you’d expect. Deanna (McCarthy) and her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) actually like and respect each other far too much for this to be the raucous “mom gone wild” flick that the trailer hints at, though this isn’t entirely for lack of trying. Like Falcone’s similarly premised Tammy, Life of the Party never decides whether it’s a broad comedy or something more sentimental.
There are enough laughs, just about, to justify the comedy label. Unsurprisingly, Maya Rudolph is the MVP among the supporting cast (despite a hairstyle that tries and fails to make her look dowdy). It’s in the depiction of supportive female friendship though, that Life of the Party’s best writing is found. Even if some of the characters feel derivative – Jacobs is really just rehashing her Community role – this makes for a surprisingly tender storyline that Falcone should have given more emphasis.
By contrast, the broader and more vulgar comedy works far less well, especially a completely out of place gross-out scene that isn’t funny enough to justify its presence, let alone its over-laboured length.
Though it is heartwarming, Life of the Party stumbles through an increasingly madcap, set piece-studded final act to a conclusion that bafflingly (and in a rather dated move) features Christina Aguilera as a plot device.
Somewhere inside the rushed, commercial shell of Life of the Party lies an unformed but much better film merely hinted at in this release. Still, McCarthy and Falcone offer some charm and a mostly harmless, inoffensive and fun (if not always funny) feature. They can, and hopefully will, do better.
CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan
DIRECTOR: Ben Falcone
WRITERS: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
SYNOPSIS: After her husband abruptly asks for a divorce, a middle-aged mother returns to college in order to complete her degree, ending up in the same senior class as her own daughter.