Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Film Review: Life of the Party

Sexuality/Nudity Offensive
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Do you remember Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School?  Then you will probably not enjoy Melissa McCarthy's new film Life of the Party.

I don't know why, but McCarthy cannot seem to find a comedy worthy of her impressive talents.  She is fantastic at physical comedy and can crack wise with the best of them.  But nearly every script for every movie that she is in lets her down.

Life of the Party begins as Deanna (McCarthy) and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) drop of their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at her sorority for her fourth year of college.  There in the parking lot, Dan tells Deanna that he is leaving her.  This causes Deanna to spiral and so she decides to enroll in her daughter's college to finish out her archeology degree.  There is becomes friends with Maddie's sorority sisters Helen (Gillian Jacobs), Debbie (Jessie Ennis), and Amanda (Adria Arjona).  They love Maddie's mom and take her to parties where she inexplicably becomes the most popular person on campus and starts a torrid affair with the handsome Jack (Luke Benward).  The rest of the story has hijinks ensue.

The biggest sin that this movie makes is that it doesn't remember the cardinal rule of comedies: make every scene funny.  The opening scene doesn't have a single joke, or if it did I missed it entirely.  The movie seems mainly interested in selling you on how great McCarthy is.  But instead of doing this by letting her shine, it is done primarily by having bad people like her husband, his fiancee (Julie Bowen), or college mean girls (Debby Ryan and Yani Simone) pick on her or by having the likable people go gaga for her.  Instead of jokes, we get constant emotional validation of our heroes.

This is particularly the case in her relationship with Jack.  I'm not saying that a college party guy wouldn't go for an out-of-shape woman twice his age and exuding cranky stodginess.  I'm saying that the movie never gives you a reason for Jack to fall for her other than the script says he does.  In the movie My Best Friend's Wedding, Julia Robert's character sets up her rival, Cameron Diaz, to sing karaoke when she cannot carry a tune.  What starts as a cringy public humiliation ends with the entire bar coming to Diaz' support because she embraces the embarrassment.  And as this happens, we see Roberts grudgingly being won over too.  This scene works because the filmmakers made the audience feel what the characters in the movie felt.  You went on their emotional journey in the scene and you ended by liking Cameron Diaz more even if you didn't want to.

There is no scene like this in Life of the Party.  

None of Deanna's adoration is earned.  She is preachy and unhip and does nothing of such excellence to win over the audience or the other characters.  She constantly gives speeches of empowerment that we are meant to believe these college girls find inspiring instead of insipid.  How are her words different than a lecture from mom?  I don't know.  When you see Dangerfield in Back to School, he constantly wins you over with his wit and caution-to-the-wind charm.  In Life of the Party, the implication is that if you don't fall for Deanna like the good guys, then you must be a horrible person like the bad guys.  Shaming your audience into liking your main character is not a good strategy.

I'm never a fan of characters embracing a promiscuous attitude, but watching a mother and daughter simultaneously do the walk of shame out of a frat house made me feel a little sick rather than giggly.  And Deena does some truly destructive things and we are meant to forgive her because of her pain.  But all I kept thinking about was how self-centered she is.  Dangerfield's character was also a bit of a scoundrel, but he had to learn to earn his way out of his jams.  Deena is saved by a weird Deus ex machina that would be more annoying if you cared at all by that point.

None of the performances can save this story.  Jacobs and Bowen are too incredibly talented comediennes, but they can wring any real humor from their characters.  Maya Rudolph plays Deanna's best friend and she has some funny moments, but they are few and far between.  

In terms of comedy, Life of the Party is dead on arrival.

image by Yasir72.multan

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