The great Melissa McCarthy suffers the Ben Falcone curse yet again in Life of the Party, a shitty Back to School rip-off, which makes it double shitty because Back to School sucked.
Falcone is McCarthy's husband, and he has now directed her in three movies, all bad. The duo worked together on Tammy, one of McCarthy's worst films, and The Boss, the best of their work together but still pretty bad.
McCarthy plays Deanna, a frumpy middle-aged mom with a young daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), going into her last year in college. Within minutes of dropping their daughter off at school, her husband (Matt Walsh) dumps her for a real estate agent played by the actress from Modern Family (Julie Bowen).
A dejected Deanna decides to enroll in school (a shockingly easy process in this film) and finds herself not only attending college alongside her daughter, but hanging out with her and her sorority sisters. She's considered a square at first, but a quick makeover during a party in the bathroom has her emerge as the coolest new girl on campus with awesome hair.
Before long, she's pulling all-nighters in frat houses with her new boyfriend (Luke Benward) in one of the film's few likable aspects. (McCarthy and Benward are somewhat funny together.) She's also break dancing at '80s themed parties, and desecrating the wedding cake at her ex-husband's wedding. Basically, it's a film full of done-to-death comic setups that feel torturously familiar and ripped off. I'm surprised McCarthy didn't bust out a vocal rendition of "Twist and Shout" a la Rodney Dangerfield at the '80s party.
The movie is populated with characters, played by stellar actresses, that could've used some more screen time. Gillian Jacobs plays Helen, a genuinely funny character in concept. She's an adult college student in school after spending eight years in a coma. Her story probably would've made for a more interesting movie, but the screenplay buries her deep in the background.
The same goes for Heidi Gardner, one of the bright spots on this season of Saturday Night Live, as Leonor, Deanna's goth roommate who never leaves their room and likes to hide in their closet. She's funny, and rather than use her more in the film, the movie saves her for a dopey punchline involving Christina Aguilera. That also means the film features a stupid climactic scene involving Christina Aguilera.
I'm always amazed when a film with McCarthy in it is awful, because she's so damned good. Movies like Life of the Party make me mad at the movie, and not the star in its center. She does what she can with lousy material, and even manages to squeak out two or three genuine laughs. But her material here is her bitter, sworn, hackneyed enemy.
The film starves for that moment where McCarthy transcends the material and lets loose in that McCarthy way that makes her one of the funniest people populating movies today. It's PG-13, so her penchant for making profanity-laced hilarious dialogue art is mostly stifled, although she gets in a couple of good ones involving Google and her vagina.
Instead, you get scenes like Deanna getting nervous and sweaty during a midterm speech, grinding laughs out of pieces of tissue on her face and pit stains. Or agonizing moments like her doing a dance off with one of the school's mean girls, culminating in a stunt woman busting out those aforementioned break dance moves. Unfunny, unoriginal and beneath McCarthy's talents in every way.
While it makes me happy to know that McCarthy and Falcone are happily married and working together, something tough to pull off in nasty Hollywood, the fruits of their union are not magical in the cinematic sense. They should put the making movies together part of their relationship on ice. It's just not working out.