Director: Ben Falcone
Writers: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Luke Benward, Debby Ryan
When I agreed to review Life of the Party, I experienced a moment of panic. What if there is nothing good to say about it, could I really pan my first movie?
A quick look at the other reviews on the net and the responses were decidedly mixed. A longer look at the trailer and I didn’t think I would be able to keep my inner snark under control either, but by the end of the movie I was left scratching my head. This movie should not have worked.
When she is callously dumped by her husband, Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) returns to university to complete the final year of her degree at the same college her daughter (Molly Gordon) is attending. For most of us, Maddie’s situation would be unthinkably excruciating but, in this instance, Maddie’s mother is adopted by her daughter’s inner circle and given full entrée into the party scene.
With only the briefest hesitation, Deanna, now known as Dee Dee or Dee Rock, embarks upon a wildly inappropriate and utterly delicious romance with one of the most gorgeous guys in school.
As a fish out of water tale, the storyline is far from unusual as a basis for comedy. Luckily the writers have twisted the dial on this premise, subtly but significantly playing with and delicately subverting all the usual clichés.
Contrary to my earlier fears, this movie was not designed as a morality tale. It is not about the struggle to be accepted and, despite the big close-ups trained on Deanna, the comedy does not revolve around the lead character’s journey of self-discovery as a mature age student. Rather, the humour turns on the well-meaning attempts by the supporting characters to help Deanna adjust to her new reality. Help meaning unfettered mischief and lashings of bad behaviour. With this help, Deanna not only achieves her independence, but her motley bunch of helpers also finds their own mojo.
As usual, the cool girls are the villains, but only minor ones. Nonetheless, there are some sweet moments of shadenfreude when Jennifer (Debby Ryan) is spurned in favour of her frumpy rival. The major villain of the piece is the grownup counterpart of the cool girls, the image-obsessed, home-wrecking, husband stealing realtor, and the payback for this particular villain is deviously delicious.
With a thoughtful screenplay, some of the most piquant humour is in the smaller details: Deanna landing a punch square in the centre of her wedding photo, Helen (Gillian Jacobs) snipping a hank of Jennifer’s hair during a lecture as payback for her bitchiness, and the bride holding forth on the groom’s ‘kerbside appeal’ in the middle of their wedding ceremony.
Life of the Party is a movie that shouldn’t be funny but somehow it is. If the rest of the audience were not laughing right along with me, I might have believed that I had suddenly lost all of my critical faculties. As it is, this fluffy haired comedy succeeds in what it sets out to do: turning ‘lemonade into the full lemon’.
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