Melissa McCarthy, when given a chance to shine in roles, really goes all out. She’s funny, that’s a given, but her roles have varied from playing assholes with big hearts or kind and gentle women who wise up and power through. It’s ultimately a mixture of these things that have won her over with audiences. Life of the Party might not be her best film, but it is enjoyable at face value, even while playing into some on-the-nose cliches and tropes throughout. McCarthy manages to carry the movie with her charm and a “you can do it” attitude that helps move along an otherwise mediocre comedy.
Deanna (Melissa McCarthy), dropping off her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon) for her final year in college, has just been given the most surprising news of her life: her husband, Dan (Matt Walsh), wants a divorce. Deanna is completely thrown and the last 20 years of her life are questioned as she reevaluates exactly what this means for her and where she’s going. Having dropped out of college with only a year left to graduate, Deanna figures it’s as good a time as ever to go back and finish her degree in archaeology. So she enrolls, makes new friends, and experiences new things, ultimately proving to herself that she has it in her to do what she’s always dreamed to do.
Life of the Party doesn’t make any attempts at being anything other than what it presents itself to be. Every singly plot and character beat you can see a mile coming before it even happens and the film plainly glosses over some of the subplots, like that of Maddie taking more issue with the fact that her mom is now at college with her than her parents getting divorced. The mother/daughter relationship is there, but it’s slight and McCarthy takes the responsibility of making these scenes feel more genuine. There is, however, one big surprise twist that will elicit gasps because it’s that good.
McCarthy’s Deanna is a very sweet character and it’s easy to root for her. She shows us a couple of different sides to her personality, but one of the downsides to the film is that it does choose to keep it light without getting into the grief and devastation Deanna must have been feeling after being blindsided by her husband’s utter disregard for her after so many years of marriage. The movie’s plot remains simple and largely drama-free outside of the one-dimensional “mean girl” types here and there. Because of the hyper-focus on the lightness and comedy, the narrative drive and overall conflict are heavily lacking, so it feels like the film is floating aimlessly until about three-quarters of the way through.
Despite certain narrative slumps, the physical comedy (even more than the verbal) really makes for the best laughs. McCarthy charms, but Maya Rudolph is a standout and her over-the-top deliveries truly work in scenes where everything is relatively tame in comparison. The theme of women being supportive of each other rather than fighting are minimal and don’t do much for the film–the film’s mean girl is wholly unnecessary. This is because the women are largely supportive of each other, so we didn’t need to see someone who’s a cardboard cutout of a mean girl to drive that point home. Life of the Party is enjoyable if you’re willing to look past some of the issues that stem from its need to be a happy, overly simplified comedy.