Turn off your vagoogle.
Life of the Party is my second female-led broader-than-broad comedy to review in the same number of weeks, so I can't help but compare it to I Feel Pretty. This time it's Melissa McCarthy doing the comic heavy-lifting, taking a slight premise and wringing from it every last drop of comedic potential; that I laughed as much as I did is largely down to her. She (much like Amy Schumer in the Pretty movie) dragged the whole enterprise back from the brink of doom.
The film's premise has been mined for laughs before - a middle-aged protagonist enrols in college and starts whooping it up with the youngsters on campus. McCarthy plays Deanna, a woman whose education was derailed by unplanned pregnancy years before, and whose bolt-from-the-blue midlife crisis provides her with impetus to return to her studies. This life-change coincides with her now grown-up daughter Maddie's freshman year; mother and daughter end up in the same peer group, to Maddie's initial chagrin. Soon, however, Mom is down with the Millennials, her little girl included, sharing in all (and I do mean all) that college life has to offer.
Directed by McCarthy's husband Ben Falcone and co-written by the pair of them, Life of the Party is a strange and intermittently entertaining creation. It provides no particular dramatic arc for its central character, something that simultaneously avoids cliche and makes the whole story a bit ramshackle. Deanna bounces back from disaster early on and blends swiftly into her daughter's academic world, becoming a cheery mentor for the whole group while catching up on a life she missed. Yes an additional crisis is manufactured late on, but it fails to give the drama any shape. The movie ends up as a string of semi-improvised comedy sketches of variable success, Maddie's friends serving as a bunch of quirky sidekicks for the main player. None of them is sketched as fully as you'd like (although Molly Gordon gamely plays straight-woman as the daughter).
Having said all that, the irrepressible McCarthy can't help but be funny. She brings a mumsy, folksy charm to Deanna at all times, and there's undeniable enjoyment in watching the character cut loose as her inner college-girl reveals itself. Plus when it comes to comedy set-pieces, she's remarkable. Put her in a '80s party dance-off, or a clinch with a younger guy, or a public speaking-related panic attack and Bridesmaids-level comedy gold is assured. (Amy Schumer is cut from similar cloth - give either actress even a half-baked premise and they'll forge it into something properly funny through sheer ferocity of talent.)
Speaking of which, Bridesmaids alumnus Maya Rudolph (she played the actual bride) is also satisfyingly funny as Deanna's best pal Christine. Put it down to Saturday Night Live training, but these girls work comedic alchemy. Case in point - their combined forces turn one really contrived scene of payback into something genuinely hilarious.
Life of the Party a college football field's distance from being a classic, but it's not without its charms. The raucous female-centric college antics actually allow some room for study, and there are a some touching/empowering life-lessons along the way, mostly imparted by the older, wiser Deanna to her fresh-faced sorority pals. True the storytelling is messy and the younger bunch tend to get short-changed by the script, but enough of the comedy lands to make it worth its time on the screen.
Gut Reaction: It made me laugh. Sporadically, but out loud.
Where Are the Women?: See above. They're all over this.
Ed's Verdict: 6.5/10. Like last week's I Feel Pretty, it's got a whole bunch of problems in the writing. But it made me crack up more, so it gets the extra point-five. No-brainer.