Having parlayed their collaborative spirit into a pretty successful comedy genre “dream team” over the past few years, Melissa McCarthy and director/real-world partner Ben Falcone with this lively and engaging – if strangely substanceless – collegiate comedy that effectively takes The House Bunny for a spin through suburbia. While The House Bunny though earned its place as something of a modern cult classic by way of being rooted in messages of positivity and self-worth, Life of the Party swings for a similar crop of laughs but trips itself up by neglecting to aim for any real emotional markers. You’ll enjoy it, you’ll laugh at it, but you won’t particularly feel anything, and you’ll have forgotten the movie entirely by the time you get home.
Which is a shame, as McCarthy’s on her usual fine form as Deanna – a middle-aged suburban mom whose shock divorce by her cheating spouse sees her re-enroll in college in order to finish out the degree she put on hold for her married life. Now well and truly the oldest kid on campus, Deanna sets about finding her own voice for the first time in her life, bonding with her fellow student (and daughter) Maddie and her band of colourful friends as they attempt to navigate the waters of college life.
There’s an obvious question lingering throughout Life of the Party in asking just whom this surprisingly broad comedy is intending itself for. A PG-13 rated comedy with a surprising resistance to more crude humour, one would assume this latest McCarthy vehicle is aimed at the mums in the crowd, yet it can’t seemingly resist the urge to skew periodically in the direction of more established motor-mouthed McCarthy terrain – particularly in scenes that pair the star with either her on-screen daughter (Molly Gordon) or best friend (Maya Rudolph, having the best time of her life). It’s an awkward swaying that never manages to right itself, and yet Life of the Party is generally so out-and-out funny that you give it a free pass for the quality of the comedic chops at work, regardless of how they’re utilised. Put bluntly, there’s a second-act closing scene in a restaurant that you’ll laugh so hard at, the rest of the movie could be as dull as dishwater and you plainly wouldn’t care.
Working the broader tone in a way that made last year’s The Boss pop, McCarthy’s a delight as always, with a joyously cable-friendly supporting cast including the likes of Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen, Chris Parnell, Stephen Root (shockingly, actually old enough for his casting as McCarthy’s father), Gillian Jacobs, and more on hand to stuff Life of the Party so full of zingers that it’s a cert to win over those looking for a good time.
It lacks any kind of a real point outside of being a good time, though, begging the question as to whether or not that might actually be the point of a comedy set within the cartoonishly drawn world these characters inhabit. Go for a good time, not a meaningful one, and you’ll have a blast – but don’t expect the Life of the Party to have any real depth beyond the chuckles.
Life of the Party is in cinemas nationwide from Thursday, May 10th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.