Grade: C/C+
Entire family: No
2018, 105 min., Color
Comedy
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Of the last five movies that Melissa McCarthy starred in—Life of the Party, The Boss, Spy, Tammy, and The Heat—only two are funny. The Heat is a hilarious pairing of McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as cops, while the less riotous Spy has her playing a desk-bound CIA operative who has to hit the field to prevent global disaster. The other three are uninspired and reliant on bits and gags we’ve seen a thousand times before. And not coincidentally, the three disappointments were written by McCarthy and her husband, actor Ben Falcone.

So can I just say, on behalf of all the fans of McCarthy and her Robin Williams-like improvisational talent, would you please leave the writing to someone else?

Life of the Party feels like a female remake of Back to School, which starred Rodney Dangerfield as a parent who cramps his son’s style by going to the same college and hanging out with some of the same people, ultimately becoming the most popular “kid” in school. Except that Back to School is much funnier and also less raunchy and more believable.

In the Dangerfield comedy, Rodney was a Trump-like businessman used to bribing people and getting his own way, so he donates a large amount of money in order to get accepted, pays people to “update” his dorm room, uses his chauffeur to help him enroll in classes, pays people to do his homework and attend class for him, and hits on his English teacher. In Life of the Party, McCarthy is told by her husband as they pull away from dropping off their daughter for her senior year at Decatur University that he wants a divorce. She decides to go back get the archaeology degree she missed out on when she got pregnant and dropped out, and though she’s technically still married she makes a big deal about her active vagina and has a sexual relationship, not with a teacher but with one of her daughter’s male friends (Luke Benward). I know. It’s almost as cringe-worthy as the obligatory Bridesmaids-style trashing of a wedding reception and as unfunny as an initiation into sorority sisterhood that doesn’t even involve pledging. Throw in a few “mean girls,” an inadvertent pot party, and a “save the . . .” fundraising bash and you’ve pretty much covered all the clichés. A racquetball scene we’ve seen before is almost painful to watch, as is a fight where Deanna, McCarthy’s character, has her breasts punched.

And it really is the material that’s not funny. The recent comedy Sisters proved that you can bring a tired concept to life (the big party) if the writing is strong enough, the jokes are funny enough, and the relationships feel real. I don’t think you can say that about Life of the Party. The mother-daughter relationship just doesn’t ring true. As my college-age son groused during the whole film, “Who talks like this?” And as my wife complained, “Why do all the 40-year-old women in this film dress like grandmothers?”

The coeds are either too nondescript or too quirky, while a professor who’s interested in McCarthy’s character seems like nothing more than a sideplot teaser. Even Maya Rudolph, who normally knocks it out of the park as the “best friend,” can’t milk this script for laughs, nor can Modern Family’s Julie Bowen as the other woman. Life of the Party isn’t unwatchable, but you won’t laugh nearly as much as you think . . . and there are places where you really, really want to laugh, and can’t. And the proof is in the gag reel, where there are at least two deleted scenes that make you laugh more than what survived the cutting room.

So please, please, Melissa McCarthy, do yourself (and us) a favor and let other people write the screenplays.

Language: Fairly mild use of hell, damn, and bitch; it’s really the raunchiness that makes this every bit PG-13
Sex: Deanna’s boy-toy is shirtless during implied sexual encounters, and at one point they’re caught with him pulling up his pants and her on her knees in front of him in the library stacks; her sexcapades are not just tolerated, but celebrated; Deanna talks about her breasts and grabs another woman’s butt to comment on how fleshy and firm it is
Violence: In some of the few funny moments, Deanna is knocked on her backside after she tosses a lighter onto a pile of her husband’s things she put in the front yard, and her father (Stephen Root) barely misses shooting the family dog by accident; in not-funny moments, there’s a head-butt and a man has an earring ripped out; the big violence comes during a fight between Deanna and one of her mean girl nemeses
Adult situations: Alcohol, smoking, sex-talk, drug-talk, drug use
Takeaway: McCarthy will star in Superintelligence, which is slated for 2019 release, and thankfully neither she nor Falcone are listed as writers—though Falcone is directing (fingers crossed)

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