The third film from the husband-wife writer-director team of Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone—Falcone and McCarthy write the scripts, while Falcone directs—Life of the Party is their worst yet. Their first effort, the grating Tammy, at least extracted some comedic real estate from how crude it was willing to be. The Boss was McCarthy on autopilot, cynically utilizing her frank and bullish persona without adding anything new or interesting. Now we get a midlife crisis comedy that tries to take advantage of McCarthy’s other popular persona, that of the frumpy mom
Paul Feig, who’s not married to McCarthy, somehow knows exactly how to push both of those personas toward ultimate comedy payoff. Take Spy, a hilarious, astute Bond parody: Within the confines of his genre, Feig extracts surprising depth from both the lonely, socially awkward McCarthy and the angry, badass McCarthy her character eventually embraces. Falcone, on the other hand, who should obviously be more in tune with her strengths as a star, presents the most superficial version of his partner’s main personalities. It’s like how the filmmakers in Adam Sandler’s inner circle keep pushing out one lifeless “comedy” after another, and it takes an outside voice like Paul Thomas Anderson or Noah Baumbach to breathe new life into his schtick. McCarthy seems to care so much more than Sandler, which makes her ongoing collaborations with her husband that much more tragic.
She plays Deanna, a housewife dumped by her evil husband (Matt Walsh) who decides to finish her college degree as a way to cope with the sudden void in her life. This means that she will have to go to school at the same time as her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon). We think the core of the second act will center on Deanna and Maddie’s inability to coexist in the same space, but Maddie and her sorority friends almost immediately warm to Deanna, sucking all possible conflict out of the film. The attempt here by Falcone and McCarthy seems to be to inject some positivity and wholesomeness into popular culture’s bittern, ironic detachment, and that’s admirable, but this is DOA without conflict. In order to cover for that, two mean girl tropes (Debby Ryan and Yani Simone) appear, so obvious and flatly realized they might as well be gender-swapped versions of the jocks from Revenge of the Nerds. This conflict doesn’t go further than a bunch of overlong improv scenes full of overwrought, bitchy retorts.
In fact, pretty much every scene plays out as if McCarthy and Falcone expected the talented cast, which includes the great Maya Rudolph as Deanna’s BFF, to find comedy gold through improv. The bet rarely pays off, as each scene escalates into screeching shouting matches and callbacks to jokes that weren’t particularly funny in the first place. (For example, one of the prominent running gags is that one girl keeps asking, “Can I say something?” before saying anything. That’s it. That’s the joke.) Will the second act break involve Deanna hitting a snag in her studies, prompting her sorority sisters to band together and save the day? What do you think? Even a late, lazy addition of a celebrity to artificially add life to the story does no one any favors. Unfortunately for McCarthy moving forward, it would be a good idea to check the director’s name when a new vehicle is promoted.
Director: Ben Falcone
Writers: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Maya Rudolph, Molly Gordon, Yani Simone, Stephen Root, Julie Bowen, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: May 11, 2018