McCarthy plays Deanna, a full-time mom whose daughter Maddie is starting her first year of university at Decateur. But then her husband Dan says out of the blue he wants a divorce, having his eyes set on this other gal, Marcie. Deanna now feels Maddie was the only thing she really accomplished, and that was in spite of herself. She thinks back to when she was studying archaeology in college and dropped out to handle having a child. It was Dan’s decision. Remembering she only had one year to go at the time, she enrolls in her daughter’s college and becomes friends with her sorority girls, and tries to reach the reset button of life in this next year.
Here’s why this was the perfect premise for me: I’m currently in postsecondary education but with all the dreams I have, the world feels very limiting unless I can invest years of my life on a particular subject or two. And the majority of people in college are, from what I’ve seen, in their very late 10’s or 20’s, and I can’t help but feel if I tried to enroll at whatever age Deanna is, I’d feel like bread alongside waffles and be shy. I recently completed my Journalism diploma and I’ve actually made several friends much older than me, one of which is a mom with a pretty grown up daughter but that never got in the way of our friendship so I found a connection there as well. I also feel like family love is underrated and overly laughed at. Yes, parents can get annoying but Deanna is the perfect version of a true mother, someone who would do anything for their child but is also able to loosen up and join in on the fun rather than be the sergeant. And I believe when a teenager is friends with an adult, age shouldn’t have to get in the way.
I was grateful there’s a somewhat change of character in McCarthy here, sort of like how she was in St. Vincent. She’s usually free-willed, howling, and lovelorn. Here she’s kind-spirited, intelligent and sensitive. And the movie manages to bring a few surprises more memorable than a fair few in the crowded genre, with the sorority having a few moments to shine when they’re discussing their separate abilities as people and their majors. But there was a problem that couldn’t be scrubbed away, like a blueberry stain on the carpet; this shouldn’t have been a comedy.
The director is Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s wife, and they also did Tammy (which I gave a generous D+ to) and The Boss (which I gave a mash-up of C and C+ to.) I’m glad they live happy together from what I know and if they keep making movies with her in the main role, fine. But this movie distracts itself from its great ideas for easy laughs on ham sandwiches, mom sweaters and haunted houses, and it really wasn’t funny. I didn’t laugh once, the worst problem of them all.
So why didn’t I laugh? Well, some are just poorly timed or predictable, like Debby Ryan’s Regina-George impression insulting Deanna’s sense of style awkwardly, or this presentation calamity that goes on for five minutes that ends up dismal. McCarthy has a tongue like a machete but in this movie there’s also too much simply talking, without visuals or slapstick or much physical comedy to make it feel like anything more than a college film-crew’s zero-budget wide-angle-lens project. It’s the exact definition of a telling instead of showing movie. That’s why my favourite part was when they finally attempt to amp it up with a bridal shower break-in that made me crack a smile.
Also, because the jokes didn’t work and there were just so many, the movie felt half an hour longer than it was. Dan’s character was also as weak as soggy potato chips. In the first 10 minutes, he blurts out his divorce, and never throughout the movie is it satisfyingly explained why he wants to abandon his wife and child. It’s just lazy screenplay, especially when I really was interested in what could’ve possibly gone wrong.
Life of the Party means well, but its flaws outweigh its good ideas 2 to 1 because it always goes for them, heading the easy route to the finish line of the D’s-get-degrees idea.