I am not sure why directors like Ben Falcone think it is unfitting for a comedy genre film to have a unique visual taste. I mean the Coen’s had a unique framing of the Dude, and Edgar Wright stylized his unofficial Cornetto trilogy, so why can’t new and upcoming comedic filmmakers follow in their footsteps? It's frustrating as hell, and Falcone’s style in "Life of the Party" is just as dull as everyone else's because it's a copy and paste method that is tasteless and unoriginal. It never has any substance to it. Merely feeling like a man pointing a camera at the stars, not attempting to carve out his own little nest in the spotlight. That spotlight remains focused on one woman and one woman only, Melissa Mccarthy.
She plays a recently divorced mother, Deanna (Melissa Mccarthy), whose daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), has recently been sent off to college. Unable to graduate from college due to her pregnancy, Deanna (Melissa Mccarthy) enters her mid-life crisis by returning to college and attempting to get her degree. Her daughter has the predictably embarrassing moments but comes around a lot faster than you’d expect. Eventually assisting her mother in becoming the favorite mom on campus in which she joins a sorority, begins a sexual relationship with a boy half her age, and starts to struggle with her identity between mother and college student. But that subplot fades into the background, and the dive into the fountain of youth becomes the focal point.
As to why that is the focal point instead of the prominent emotion to provide some bottom to the jokes is beyond me. It seems to struggle with its own identity at times, because “Life of the Party” goes through a midlife crisis of its own by delivering an old-fashioned message that is handled like someone pretending to be a lot younger than they are. Providing signals that reflect the themes of supporting your mother (a good & specifically timed message for Mother’s Day), making new friends, being open to new adventures, and realizing your dreams don’t have an expiration date. As to which one of these themes is the central message of our story, I couldn’t tell you to be honest.
All that isn’t to say that “Life of the Party” isn’t funny, it actually has more than a few moments that made me giggle and one that made me laugh out loud. One that involves Christine (Maya Rudolph), Deanna’s (Melissa Mccarthy) best friend, telling a friend at dinner that his jokes make her want to kill herself. It was the only moment in the film that made me erupt with laughter, but every scene involving both Melissa Mccarthy and her real-life best friend Maya Rudolph is far better than anything else in the film.
The rest of the group of girls is reduced to caricatures. Gildred (Sarah Baker) is the oddball roommate, a girl whose gothness creeps out Deanna (Melissa Mccarthy). Jack (Luke Benward) is merely the hot guy whose weirdly obsessed with the older woman with no justified reason to be found. Jennifer (Debby Ryan) is the ultra rude bully who’s either jealous of the mom or so poorly written that we are unsure of why she hates this older woman. Marcie (Julie Bowen) and Deanna’s (Melissa Mccarthy) ex-husband Dan (Matt Walsh) are the sorts of douchey enemies that aren’t necessarily purposefully bullying Deanna (Melissa Mccarthy), but remind her of the pain she feels from the split. Maybe it was accidentally done that way, and I am putting way too much stock into the screenplay, or perhaps Mccarthy’s writing has more than meets the eye attached to its story.
The rest of the characters are merely objects to either further Mccarthy’s character or to further the plot itself, pushing our character from studying to a party, or from a nervous speaker to a relaxed storyteller. Either way, they serve one purpose, to further the narrative. But, I have to admit, Mccarthy’s writing is worth a lot of chuckles and a singular outburst of laughter. I always grade comedies or genre films on that scale and that’s why the grade above is half way and not below half. I can’t overlook the dump of cliches though, because “Life of the Party” may have significant messages but it fails to surpass the sum of its parts. Instead, the elements of its total are it's most prominent aspects.
The scenes including Melissa Mccarthy and Maya Rudolph exchanging banter, the small sequences of an argument between Melissa and her make-believe ex-husband, and there are moments in which Melissa steals the show on her own. “Life of the Party” is a one-woman show in the literal meaning of the term, which is sad to see. Deanna (Melissa Mccarthy) even states that “us women have enough things going against us, we gotta stick together,” it's a shame she didn’t live by what she was preaching. Never giving anyone else, but her fellow friend, a moment to stand out. A party is only as good as the number of people having a good time; this seems more like a party that was meant for two but invited others to so that they could feel surrounded or accompanied. I mean who wants to party alone?