Life of the Party
I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy, on a few different interviews, talk about her husband (Ben Falcone, who directed, co-wrote, and has a funny scene in, this film) and how he got the idea watching her talk to her mom, and wondering about how different generations would feel about their mom being around them in college. Uh, Melissa….Ben probably got the idea from the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School which has many similar scenes. And that’s fine, but just admit it. Now, the movie will also get comparisons to Old School, but I think it has enough original content that it works as a comedy; although, it was a lot like Overboard in the sense that, the first half hour is so bad, you wonder how it could possibly get good. Then I started laughing and liking the characters. My wife never did, saying McCarthy is just too abrasive to ever warm up to. She even shocked my by saying, “When her husband [Matt Walsh] told her he wanted a divorce, I understood why!”
After he does ask for a divorce, telling her he’s in love with another woman, she decides she’ll complete that one year of college she needed for her degree. Since her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon of Animal Kingdom) is in her senior year, she figures she’ll join her there. In a smart move by the filmmakers, all her daughter’s friends like her. Who wouldn’t? She makes lasagne, brings them bagels and donuts in the morning, and offers good advice. It’s just a shame they couldn’t reign in McCarthy’s Deanna character a bit more. She still seems a bit more clueless than she should. There are times she does realize she’s out of place, like at a house party, but most times she doesn’t.
A lot of the side characters are fun. Deanna’s parents are played by Jacki Weaver and Stephen Root, who’s a terrific comedic presence in films. There’s a scene where the mom wants to make sandwiches during a crisis that was hysterical.
Her best friend is played by Maya Rudolph. She has some fun scenes. One involves her trying to get her husband to have sex in weird places, and another comes when she sees the young college student (Luke Benward) with whom Deanna is having an affair.
I was a bit bummed that the daughter’s boyfriend, played by brilliant comedian Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley), isn’t given many funny scenes. His character plays it straight.
Gillian Jacobs (Community) plays a sorority sister that was in a coma for eight years, and now has a huge internet following. She’s got some good moments.
Julie Bowen (Modern Family) shows up as ex’s snotty new fiance. A perfect example of something that bothered my wife, but cracked me up, was the scene where they’re all at a divorce mediation. She hated the fact that other people would be in there, which is true. But the scene was so damn funny, I can forgive the unrealistic nature of it. There are a number of characters and situations that aren’t very realistic, but it’s a wacky comedy, so you just have to go with it.
It would’ve been nice if this movie was a bit edgier and had some bite to it. But maybe that’s because I’m comparing it to Back to School. Dangerfield was so hip and hysterical, as he would seduce a teacher, and impress Robert Downey Jr. by having Oingo Boingo play a frat party. He’d pay Kurt Vonnegut to write a report on…Kurt Vonnegut. In this, McCarthy has Christina Aguilera show up, but it feels more like a cheap cameo, where everyone can just gawk at her and tell her how great she is.
Yet it’s hard for me to knock this movie, when I think about how hard I laughed at Deanna trying to get up in front of class to give an oral presentation, or attending a frat party with kegs all around, and asking if there’s a chardonnay, preferably one that’s oaky. That’s some sharp writing.
This was a better comedy than I expected, especially since Falconer and McCarthy gave us Tammy, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
The screening audience I saw this with couldn’t stop laughing, so if you thought the commercials looked funny, you should probably check this out.
2 ½ stars out of 5.
Side Note: The movie gets extra credit for having a funny racquetball scene, since that’s my favorite sport. I can only recall racquetball scenes in Cape Fear and Splash. In this humorous scene, you also get a glimpse of San Diego racquetball company Gear Box. One of the cities best racquetball players and a nicest guys, Aaron, is one of their reps I get to occasionally play with in Kearny Mesa.