Melissa McCarthy has established herself as a queen of R-rated comedy in recent years, mostly due to her work with director Paul Feig. Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy have been big hits with audiences and critics alike. Her collaborations with her husband, director Ben Falcone, haven’t hit the same highs. Tammy is pretty much terrible, and 2016’s The Boss showed a slight improvement, but still wasn’t very good. Life of the Party is a different kind of movie altogether.
Deanna is a woman in the throes of a midlife crisis after her husband unexpectedly asks for a divorce after they drop their daughter Maddie off for her final year of college. Deanna decides to enroll in the same university as her daughter to complete the degree she never was able to finish. Maddie’s sorority sisters warm up to Deanna pretty early on, welcoming her into their circle. Through going back to school, Deanna gets to live the life she never quite got the chance to.
This is a very light movie. It’s a confection designed for a Mother’s Day release. It’s about the bonds between mothers and daughters and doesn’t really veer into the overly complicated. It isn’t necessarily ambitious. You’ve probably seen movies like this with quicker writing. And Falcone’s directorial skills still definitely need work, but he’s slowly learning from his mistakes. For a film that doesn’t have ambitious aspirations, this is really a joy to watch.
Melissa McCarthy is always terrific, but one could argue that she does the same thing a lot in every movie. It could also be argued that her brand of comedy uses profanity as a crutch. Life of the Party is rated PG-13, and McCarthy doesn’t drop a single f-bomb. It allows her to have plenty of fun with improv, but it shows she can still be very funny without profanity. There’s a scene where she does some of the finest physical comedy I have seen an actor perform in a long while.
McCarthy’s co-stars are also given abundant time to shine. Maya Rudolph, playing Deanna’s best friend, is very funny, as always, and, having worked with McCarthy for years before, they really do seem like old friends. Molly Gordon, as Maddie, is very endearing and charming. Gillian Jacobs from Netflix’s Love plays a sorority sister with an interesting backstory, and she has some standout moments. Saturday Night Live’s Heidi Gardner plays Deanna’s roommate at the dorms. She’s good, really good. Almost every moment she has earned a big laugh from the press screening crowd.
This isn’t a perfect comedy. Some gags fall flat. But, McCarthy is always an engaging screen presence, and she hasn’t lost her edge at all. She’s still riotously funny, and it’s always a pleasure to watch her cut loose. She’s backed up by a hilarious supporting cast, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Even though this is really nothing more than your standard underdog story, there is plenty here to enjoy.