“I love being back at my alma mater,” says Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy), as she and husband Dan (Matt Walsh) leave daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at Decatur University for her senior year. “Technically, it’s only my alma mater,” says Dan. “You didn’t graduate.” Then, he adds, “I want a divorce. I’m in love with someone else — Marcie Strong, the Realtor. I’m going to sell the house; Marcie’s already started the process.” That’s “Life of the Party’s” abrupt setup, to which bewildered Deanna can only say, “Twenty-three years of marriage down the tube. I didn’t see it coming.”
What’s Deanna to do now? Go back to college to complete her degree? How will daughter Maddie deal with that? “Life of the Party” has answers.
This is Melissa McCarthy’s movie. As good-hearted Deanna — or “Dee-Rock” as they call her at Decatur U — McCarthy is on screen, start to finish, reinventing herself after a mind-blowing mid-life crisis. Daughter Maddie, played by Molly Gordon, helps Mom find a new wardrobe, hairstyle and facial makeover. “You’re a college girl now!” Maddie says. Luke Benward is frat boy Jack — gentle and lusty — who helps Dee-Rock in other ways. Heidi Gardner is morose, agoraphobic roommate Leonor. Chris Parnell plays Dee’s archeology professor whose unusual mid-term exam totally flummoxes Deanna.
Others in the cast include Maya Rudolph as best friend Christine who gives Dee moral support. Dan’s new wife Marcie is played by Julie Bowen. Matt Walsh is old husband Dan who’s no help at all. “Is this why you came back to college?” he says. “To get high and sleep with guys half your age?”
“Life of the Party” is a star turn for Melissa McCarthy. It’s also a family project. Husband Ben Falcone directed; he and McCarthy co-wrote the script, as they did for two other lukewarm comedies, “Tammy” (2014) and “The Boss” (2016). “Life of the Party” is lukewarm, too. “Weak writing and half-hearted jokes,” as Newsday critic Rafer Guzman puts it, pretty much summarizes my take on “Life of the Party.” While it has a few funny moments — Deanna’s initiation into daughter Maddie’s sorority is the best — the rest are few and far between. Overall, actors on the screen — especially McCarthy — were having way more fun than I was.
Rated PG-13 for sex, drugs and partying, “Life of the Party” runs 105 minutes. Its takeaway — you’re never too old to discover your true self — is well-meant and upbeat, so there’s that.
When all is said and done,
About “Life of the Party” —
The one who has most fun
Is Melissa McCarthy.