Life of the Party (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Melissa McCarthy comedies don’t always work for me. However, Life of the Party (2018) was a pleasant surprise. The trailers didn’t excite me much, but the movie ended up being a feel-good comedy. There are many good performances within the basic framework of the story that make it one to check out.

Life of the Party brings good fun to a simple plot

After dropping their daughter off at college for her senior year, Deanna (McCarthy) learns that her husband (Matt Walsh) has been having an affair, and is divorcing her for a realtor named Marcie (Julie Bowen). Deanna picks herself up quickly and decides it’s time to finish college, which her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) isn’t exactly thrilled about.

Director Ben Falcone and McCarthy co-wrote the script (they also wrote Tammy and The Boss together). It brings a number of really funny moments wrapped up inside of a very simple, yet relatable, story. The weakest areas of the script are the two antagonistic characters; Marcie, and a college student named Jennifer (Debby Ryan). While Marcie makes perfect sense as a bad guy, Jennifer feels too forced, and often unnecessary as every other student seems to love Deanna. It seems Ryan is cursed to be typecast as a mean girl in her feature film roles. If the film had done something to explain why Jennifer had a high school attitude that didn’t really match any of the other students that are encountered in the film, it could have at least felt organic.

Fortunately for Life of the Party, the simplistic plot and the unneeded mean girl are the weakest parts. The comedy flows from McCarthy and all of her supporting cast. Maya Rudolph isn’t in the film much, but she plays Deanna’s best friend, who gets some of the bigger moments in the film. Gillian Jacobs plays Helen, a.k.a. “coma girl”, who is definitely a little off and has this deer-in-the-headlights look about her throughout the film, which brings a solid bit of comedy. However, it’s the supporting actors that really bring a lot of the most endearing laughter to the film, such as Jessie Ennis, Heidi Gardner, Adria Arjona, and Luke Benward. There were moments in the film, like Deanna calling her roommate Leonor (Gardner) “Voldemort”, that had my wife and I lean forward in our seats laughing.

The most pleasant surprise about this film was how the comedy came to be. It never felt forced or overly improvised, and was often much more subtle than many of McCarthy’s other leading roles. Her character is truly sympathetic, and then absolutely endearing. The audience is placed in the same space as the college students, and we want to see this mother succeed. This film doesn’t linger in the down moments that every redemption comedy will eventually fall into, but it rallies around Deanna’s optimism. In many ways, this film was a refreshing change, and allowed McCarthy to just shine.

Final thoughts…

Life of the Party is definitely a comedy that one could throw on in the background and just laugh at the good parts. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s definitely enjoyable. Out of McCarthy’s last few comedies, this one really stands out as one of the better ones. Life of the Party earns the Decent Watch rating.

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