This is not the worst movie of 2018, so far. That honor still goes to the inept “A Wrinkle in Time.” But “Life of the Party” is solidly in second place. It’s a comedy that tries to be funny – it’s not – and has most of its characters standing around waiting for someone to deliver a line so they in turn can deliver their own line.
On top of that, the film’s one-note premise – unhappy, unfulfilled mom decides to go back to college – runs out of juice well before the first half-hour is up, and almost three more of them still are to follow.
The script, written by the film’s star, Melissa McCarthy, and her real-life husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed, has plenty of ingredients, many of which could have made this an enjoyable romp.
But something went wrong with the recipe; there’s too much of this, not enough of that, and it’s all overcooked.
Deanna and Dan (Melissa McCarthy and Matt Walsh) have dropped off their daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), for her senior year at college, and now are free to take a long-delayed trip to Italy. But before the car is even off campus grounds, dad tells mom he wants a divorce, he’s going to marry another woman, and that she’s in real estate and will be selling their home.
That’s not very funny. Neither is mom’s visit to her own parents to tell them about it. As played by the terrific character actors Stephen Root and Jacki Weaver, they seem to have been given carte blanche to go up in vocal volume and over the top as much as they please, and their histrionics set the film on a downward spiral. Dumb verbal comedy shifts to dumb physical comedy when Deanna joins her loudmouth pal Christine (Maya Rudolph) in a pointless racquetball scene.
On a positive note, most of this has been forgotten by the time the main plot rolls around: Deanna never finished college, but now has decided to do just that, and won’t it be great to share the campus with her daughter! “This ... is ... good news,” says Maddie, haltingly, when she finds out.
And there are plenty more ingredients: Deanna gets a Goth roommate, Leonor (Heidi Gardner), who chooses staying in her dorm over going to classes; she makes friends with Helen (Gillian Jacobs), who is older than most students there because she was in a coma for eight years; and she becomes mortal enemies with campus mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan).
McCarthy has been funny in previous films, especially in “Bridesmaids,” but in follow-ups, including “Tammy,” “Spy,” and “The Boss,” she’s been known to chew the scenery to the point of annoyance, and her Deanna becomes nothing less than annoyingly exuberant.
It’s clear the director-writers have no intentions of adding a dash of subtlety to their creation when another party erupts into a dance-off, when Deanna and her new friends go into destructive mode after eating some “weed bark” and when the film devolves into hints of a guest musical artist whose name won’t be revealed here. (Oh, what the heck: It’s Christina Aguilera.)
Melissa McCarthy’s best piece of screen acting remains her brief, down-to-earth cameo in “The Hangover Part III.” The antics she goes through in this one, along with those of just about everyone around her, are embarrassing to watch.