An aggressive but damaged comedic persona goes back to school. It worked well when Rodney Dangerfield did it in 1986 but will it work as well a second time? Melissa McCarthy hopes to find out with this week’s release of “Life of the Party.”
The “Bridesmaid” star plays enthusiastic domestic engineer Deanna, devoted wife of Dan (Matt Walsh), mother of senior year university student Maddie (Molly Gordon). When Dan unexpectedly dumps her, abruptly ending their twenty-three year marriage, she takes control of her destiny. “What am I going to do?” she asks. “Take spin classes? Oh no. I don’t want to start a blog.” Instead of any of that it’s back to school for Deanna for the first time since Counting Crows topped the charts.
Enrolled at the same university as her daughter, Deanna blossoms. Embracing life around the quad she discovers everything she missed during her marriage. Her journey of self-discovery includes hanging out with Maddie’s friends and getting friendly with the campus frat boys.
Like “Back to School,” “Life of the Party” isn’t a particularly good movie. The first half is brutal, with so few laughs its hardtop even label it a comedy. The second half is much better but still, scenes end when it feels like they are just getting started or at least like there is one better joke to come. When it really goes for laughs between beyond Seanna’s sentimentality, self-help platitudes and momisms, however, it earns them. A mediation scene is laugh-out-loud, the relationships gel and Maya Rudolph needs to make the jump from supporting roles to the above the title star.
Mostly though, the film features the relentless likability of Melissa McCarthy. I’m not sure she elevates the material (which she co-wrote with her director husband Ben Falcone) but she brings some heart to it and in this story of a mother and daughter, that’s enough.