Movie Review: Life of the Party (2018)
Since Melissa McCarthy broke big in “Bridesmaids,” three of her movies have been directed by husband Ben Falcone:
- Tammy (2014)
- The Boss (2016)
- Life of the Party (2018
And three of her movies have failed to gross more than $100 million domestic:
- Tammy: $84 million
- The Boss: $63 million
- Life of the Party: $52 million
Downward trajectory, too. Must be rough bedtime conversation.
I’ll give it this: The first half of “Life of the Party” isn’t supremely awful.
McCarthy plays Deanna, a chipper, “Fargo”esque, fortysomething mom whose daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is beginning her senior year of college. Then Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh of “VEEP”) drops a bomb: He wants a divorce to marry their bleach-blonde realtor, Marcie (Julie Bowen of “Modern Family”). What’s Deanna to do? Well, she got pregnant a year shy of her archeology degree so why not go back to school?
It’s fish out of water stuff but blithely out of water. That’s the comedy. She buys colorful rah-rah college gear but is stuck with a depressed shut-in (Heidi Gardner), for a dorm roommate. Maddie is freaked for about two seconds but then is surprisingly cool with sharing senior year with mom. So are her sorority sisters. Each has a shtick: Debbie (Jessie Ennis) always asks for permission before commenting; Helen (Gillian Jacobs) was in a coma for eight years and has 3 million Twitter followers; and Amanda (Adria Arjona) is just, I don’t know, really, really good-looking. Like shockingly, nobody-looks-that-good good-looking. So of course at one point Deanna has to make a speech to buck Amanda up and give her confidence. Because girls need confidence. Even the ones who are like crushingly, knee-bucklingly good-looking.
There’s also Mean Girls (Debi Ryan and Yani Simone), who can’t fathom why the old woman bothers and say nasty things to her. Indeed, for a movie in which a woman is dumped by a man, the true villains are often other women.
Early on, Maddie gives mom a makeover to make her look less mommish. And it works. Deanna winds up schtupping Jack (Luke Benward), a tall, handsome, supernice fratboy who becomes obsessed with her. The schtupping I’ll take, but the obsession? That’s tougher to buy. Tougher to watch is how Jack is used in the bitchy melodrama. At an expensive restaurant with her adult friends, including bestie Christine (Maya Rudolph), Deanna runs into Dan and Marcie, and Marcie acts all catty. Then their waiter arrives. It's Jack. More: Jack is Marcie’s son. So trump card for Deanna, right? Yes. But it quickly gets uncomfortable as Christine in particular rubs it in Marcie’s face as if Dan weren’t standing right there. That’s all he does, by the way: He doesn’t defend mom from Christine, doesn’t defend Deanna from mom. He just stands there, a stupid expression on his face, while the others improvise around him.
None of it is funny.
Much of the movie is like this: unfunny improv. Before a family law mediator, Rudolph and Bowen try to outdo each other in outrageousness. Nothing. The usually reliable Stephen Root (Deanna’s dad) doesn’t manage a good line. Everything Gillian Jacobs says lands with a thud.
But it’s even worse in the third act.
Third act, fourth film
So Deanna and the girls show up at Dan’s wedding, inadvertently high but with good intentions. They plan to make nice. Then they see the “wedding propaganda” in the lobby, including a posterboard in which Dan declares he is “upgrading” his wife, and they go off and trash the reception area. Confronted, they skulk out, and Marcie declares that Deanna is cut off financially.
Wait, what? How was Deanna relying on them financially anyway? What did the idiot mediator decide?
Whatever, it sets up our stupid problem/idiot resolution finale.
- STUPID PROBLEM: Now penniless, Deanna is ready to give up college again.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but the others aren’t ready to give up on her! Nope, they throw a fundraising party! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except, oh no, the party is on the same night as the Christina Aguilera concert, so no one is there.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but Helen, with her 3 million Twitter followers, tweets that Christina is coming to their party after the show! Now tons of people show up! Deanna is saved! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except some of these people are understandably upset when Christina Aguilera doesn't show and demand their money back.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Which is when the real Christina Aguilera shows up! Turns out she’s cousins with Deanna’s shut-in roomie! And she sings! And everyone parties! And Deanna is saved! Yay!
The final stupid problem Deanna had to overcome is her fear of public speaking so she can pass her archeology oral exam. She does. And then she graduates. And then ... that's it. The movie just kind of dribbles to an end. It skulks out before we can.
At least Melissa and Ben learned their lesson, right? After the poor reviews and poorer box office? No more movies directed by Ben, right?
Wrong. Falcone's “Superintelligence,” starring McCarthy, is scheduled to open Christmas Day 2019. Fourth time’s the charm?