Since Saturday Night Live‘s conception in 1975, not a year has gone by where the film industry hasn’t pimped out specific sketch actors for a few bucks. Sometimes it worked, as with say Caddyshack and 1984’s Ghostbusters, but sometimes it didn’t, as with say Master of Disguise or – I don’t know – 2017’s Ghostbusters.
That’s basically the feeling I get with the latest film by Ben Falcone, Life of the Party, starring Melissa McCarthy. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst film ever, but the attempt to showcase another SNL character actor most definitely holds it back from even a “popcorn flick” status.
Life of the Party follows Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy), a devoted Soccer Mom who is seeing her daughter Maddy (Molly Gordon) off to her last year of college. As they’re driving away, her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) drops a bombshell – he wants a divorce. This life altering event prompts her to return to college and pursue her degree in anthropology. The catch: she’s going to the same college as her daughter. Once settled, she proceeds to do exactly what we expect a Soccer Mom to do on the same campus as her daughter – bakes cookies, tells embarrassing stories about her daughter in public, and basically embarrasses herself in front of the next generation. And more shenanigans happen from there.
No surprise, this movie doesn’t cut it. There’s plenty of gags, nonsensical improv moments, and the occasional reference to certain parts of the female anatomy (a.k.a. the “Va-Google,” as it’s called at one point), but it doesn’t deliver what we expect in a humorous take on a mid-life crisis.
One problem with this film is that it feels like the creators had an unfinished draft to work with. The pacing is too rapid and we don’t get much time to create an emotional connection with the characters, their trials, or the events which unfold around them. Melissa McCarthy drops her daughter off at college, then boom. Divorce. No emotion, no context. It just happens. The lead-up to the climax is kind of abrupt as well. I won’t go into the details – honestly, because I don’t remember even 24 hours later – but it just goes from A to N to Z with no meaningful dialogue or rising action to make it believable.
Which leads me to the next problem: the concept vs. the execution. A Soccer Mom goes to the same school as her daughter. Sounds plausible, and even quite humorous. The problems arise when half way through the film, Melissa McCarthy enters a litany of gag moments that hinder the story’s credibility. Case and point: she attends an 80s themed frat party with her sorority mates who are two decades younger than her. Sounds good on the surface until McCarthy and her troupe break down in a perfectly choreographed dance number. Funny? Maybe. Believable? No.
There’s more to go on here, but probably the biggest problem with this one is that the film’s focus is solely on Melissa McCarthy and her abilities as a comedic actress.
McCarthy is great, no doubt about it. She delivers her goods and deserves credit for it. Unfortunately, most of the film’s energy comes only from her. The remainder of the cast, and the story, becomes dry by comparison. All do what they can with their parts, but with so much working against them in the script, it just doesn’t pay off.
Maybe the passage of time will allow this film to recover in the future, but for now – it’s a dud.
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