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Life of the Party (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Life of the Party


Starring Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Jessie Ennis, Adria Arjona, Luke Benward, Maya Rudolph, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen, Jacki Weaver, Stephen Root, Chris Parnell, Damon Jones, Debby Ryan, Yani Simone, Jimmy O. Yang, Heidi Gardner, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama, Shannon Purser, Nat Faxon, Ben Falcone and Christina Aguilera.

Screenplay by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone.

Directed by Ben Falcone.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It feels like 1986 all over again.

Just last week, they released a new version of Goldie Hawn’s comedy Overboard, starring Anna Faris, in which they just flipped the sex. Now, just a week later comes Melissa McCarthy’s new comedy Life of the Party, which in fairness is not officially a remake of Rodney Dangerfield’s hit Back to School, but it obviously has blatantly stolen its concept. An outgoing and slightly-embarrassing parent decides to go back to college, partying and acting wild, becoming a favorite on campus amongst all the students, except for their embarrassed child. They just flipped the sex again.

And like Overboard, it’s not a great movie, but it’s more fun than you’d expect. Which you can also say about Back to School.

Welcome back to 1986. Everybody wang chung tonight.

Life of the Party actually seems like an ideal movie choice for Melissa McCarthy, a very funny actress who has pretty much been stereotyped on film as loudmouth, uncouth, outrageous characters. Not unlike Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School.

But then, McCarthy and her co-screenwriting husband Ben Falcone did something rather sneaky, if not outright subversive. They actually made her character of Deanna into a sweet, good-hearted, giving person. Yes, she’s a little too loud, a little too friendly, a little too goofy, a little too into puns, a little too free with the life advice, a little too easy to talk into binge drinking at frat parties. But her heart is in the right place, and she rarely seems obnoxious. She is mostly just nice. In fact, this character is the closest that McCarthy has come to her breakthrough role of Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls on film – a sweet, slightly eccentric, loving free spirit.

The kinder, gentler role works for her, and it makes this one of the best films she has made. McCarthy is easier to watch simply because she is no longer the butt of the joke. (See: Tammy, The Boss, Identity Thief, etc.)

In fact, pretty much everyone in Life of the Party is pretty likable. Even the hot, bitchy, mean girl (former Disney Channel star Debby Ryan given a slutty makeover) who starts out torturing her, eventually turns out to be okay, just a little insecure. The only truly monstrous characters are Deanna’s ex-husband (Matt Walsh), who is obviously a dick from the first moment he is on screen (even his loving daughter exclaims “Dad is such an ass!”), and his pushy new girlfriend (Julie Bowen).

While Life of the Party is far from being a classic, this is certainly a step up for McCarthy and Falcone, who had previously misunderstood her oddball charms with the nearly unwatchable The Boss and Tammy. Yes, it’s a bit of a cheesy crowd-pleaser, and some parts don’t pass the smell test (a slapstick sight gag when Deanna tries to start a bonfire with her ex’s belongings is one of the moments that goes far awry, as is a quick interplay about a “vagoogle”), but the charmingly eccentric performances by the women – particularly their fearless leader – make sure that it’s almost always watchable.

Hell, any movie with both Gillian Jacobs and Maya Rudolph in it can’t help but be intriguing.

I hope Life of the Party helps to turn a corner in McCarthy’s career, which has been wallowing because of just too many bad films. I like this new kinder, gentler Melissa McCarthy. It’s a good fit on her. I hope she takes it out more often.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: May 11, 2018.

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