by Tom Clocker
Melissa McCarthy remains a very busy actress with her latest film, Life of the Party, about a middle-aged woman who returns to college after life throws her a curveball. McCarthy also co-wrote the screenplay along with director Ben Falcone, who mans the helm for his third film. This 105-minute heart-warming comedy plays out like a film with a much more experienced writing and directing team.
Shortly after dropping her daughter off at college for her senior year, Deanna (McCarthy) is floored when her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) tells her he wants a divorce. After Deanna unloads on her parents, she begins to take steps to put the devasting news behind her. She finally realizes that she now has the opportunity to go back to college and finish the one year she has left in order to graduate. Since Dan is selling their family home out from under her, Deanna decides to have resident status and live on campus…at the same school her daughter is attending. Classes and parties are attended. Romances happen. Friends are made. Lessons are learned. Wounds are healed.
The whole “fish out of water” age difference in college thing has been done before. Rodney Dangerfield did it quite well in Back to School (1986). So, the challenge for McCarthy and Falcone is to bring something fresh to the screen. In Life of the Party that freshness can be found in the deeper story. Deanna is hurting. Her whole life got turned upside down and her heart has been crushed. She loves school and her major, archeology. She loves her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) and the extra time she gets to hang out with her. She even makes fast friends with Maddie’s sorority sisters, led by Helen (Gillian Jacobs of Community). But this film’s greatest strength is when Deanna realizes that everyone and everything around her is helping her put the pieces back together in her own life. We have all been hurt. We have all had those moments where we think things can’t get any worse, and we wonder how we could ever go on. Well, the thing about hitting rock bottom is it forces you to look up. And, when you do, you may just find the thing that was missing most in your life. “Life of the Party” resonates with everyone. Your hurt may not be divorce, specifically, but you will instantly relate to Deanna or one of her new friends. To say this is a “feel good” film is an understatement.
Now then, you can’t have a comedy without…well, comedy. So, how does “Life of the Party” do there? Short answer: amazing. Falcone does a brilliant job of breaking up the touching scenes with the hilarious moments. Just when you think you’ll need to grab a tissue, you’ll end up grabbing your side because it’ll be hurting as you laugh so hard. The entire cast has moments to shine, including secondary characters like Deanna’s parents, or her best friend Christine (Maya Rudolph). Just be careful. If your theater is too crowded, you may miss dialogue that is drowned out by the roars of laughter.
McCarthy is brilliant in Life of the Party. This very well could be her best film to date. She is insanely funny, but more importantly, astoundingly human. It’s impossible not to see yourself, or someone close to you, in this character. You will be behind her 100%. You will cheer for her when she overcomes an obstacle. You will laugh when she does something silly. You will cry, or come darn close when she has a tough moment.
In an oversaturated genre, with a reused premise, “Life of the Party” came out on top. This is the surprise of the spring, stuck right between blockbuster Marvel films (The Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2). Is it worth the price of a theater ticket? Maybe. That’ll be up to you. It’s a heart-warming comedy that you’ll enjoy whenever, or wherever you watch it. So, if you save your scratch for “Deadpool 2”, definitely keep “Life of the Party” on your radar.