You know when you are sitting in the seat as film critic, no matter your stature or pay grade there really is only one rule…it’s more or less unwritten, but always understood.
Under no circumstances can you walk out and then write it up, you’ve got to stay for the whole thing…and boy howdy it isn’t always as easy as it seems.
Life Of The Party certainly has a well tested premise with a few quality jokes and comedic set-ups but it’s execution in the first half is just so damn erratic that it makes for something that is bordering on painful to watch in spite of a well meaning message that it tries to get across.
It’s an idyllic scenario as a mom drops her daughter off at college for her senior year but it all goes to hell as long time dedicated housewife Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) finds herself dumped by her husband and turns regret into re-set by going back to college…landing in the same class and school as her daughter, who’s not entirely sold on the idea. Plunging headlong into the campus experience, the increasingly outspoken Deanna—now Dee Rock—embraces freedom, fun and frat boys on her own terms, finding her true self in a senior year no one ever expected.
While I can certainly understand the drive and desire for Ben Falcone (Co-Writer & Director) & his wife Melissa McCarthy (Co-Writer & Star) to work together the results are at best middling and for the most part not funny as Life Of The Party has a small handful of nice comedic setup and situations but wastes its talent with uneven execution. The film rushes any kind of narrative structure and rather unenthusiastically falls into moments that either work surprisingly well or feel so forced and awkward that they just aren’t very funny to begin with leaning on old sight gags and moments of physical comedy that play to the lowest common denominator.
It really does feel like if Ben Falcone were directing sketches or webisodes that are trying to get a laugh out of its audience then he’d really be in his wheel house but working in the constructs of a feature length narrative for quite a bit of filler on his audience as he tries to lay out his story. He’s not doing anything bad per say as a director, but the lack of efficiency in his story telling is really on full display. There’s jokes that happen in any given moment that land well (even exceptionally well in one instance) but they are buffered by an uneven narrative that just plays a little too jarringly to be effective as a wide variety of characters and situations get dropped, ignored and over focused on almost simultaneously. The decent bits (including a relevant message about female self value and empowerment) get drowned out by a fractured whole and can’t get saved until the film devolves into some stereotypical crowd pleasing beats and by then, we’ve more or less dialed out of the whole thing.
Melissa McCarthy is undeniably one funny lady but through her entire career arc she seems to flip back and forth between criminally underrated as a comedienne and an actress to goofing off on subpar romps that only ever show us a fraction of what she is capable of. In many ways she is the heir apparent to the likes of Adam Sandler, she can deliver moments of greatness but also disappoint as she plays to the lowest common denominator. There’s nothing wrong with some cheap laughs once in awhile, but they have to be executed a lot better than they were in this film.
The likes of Gillian Jacobs, Julie Bowen, Stephen Root, Chris Parnell, Matt Walsh and Maya Rudolph get more or less wasted as bit players in McCarthy’s orbit. Sure there’s no doubt McCarthy is the star with pull and the gravitas to carry a movie but had the other players just been a tiny bit more involved this really could have felt fun and special, but instead played out like a failed comedic riff on trying to rediscover life after marriage.
Ultimately, I can’t deny that Life Of The Party did have some bright spots(even if I can only count them on one hand), but the overall whole of the film was just too broken to be anything more than a rehashed comedic situation that leaves too much narrative filler in between some solid jokes.