Nutshell: SIGH. I really wanted to love this movie. Yet I just can’t. Jokes that fall flat and/or are drawn out for way too long. A story that doesn’t really seem to know where it’s going or what it’s trying to accomplish. I could go on and on but you get the point. A few good laughs, but not enough to save this disappointment. Grade: D [Update from August, 2018: dammit, I should have given this an F. Apparently I was feeling generous.]
“Please be quiet and stop talking.” (My thoughts exactly, movie. My thoughts exactly.)
Story: 40-ish mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) dropped out of college in her senior year so she could get married (and give her bun-in-the-oven a mom and dad.) But now that her husband wants a divorce, what’s Deanna to do? Why finish her degree, of course! At the same university her daughter Maddie attends! They’ll both be seniors! Cue the college shenanigans! Oh god just make it all stop.
Genre I’d put it in: Tired “College Life, WOO!!!11!” Comedies
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Before I saw it, I figured it was a ripoff reboot of Back to School. But this film doesn’t know what it’s doing, so I’ll go with original.
Gotta say: I suck at math. It is known. But I know enough math to know that if Deanna dropped out of college at 20, and her daughter is a senior in college? That’d make Deanna 40, 41 tops. And here in 2018, that’d mean that Deanna dropped out of college at around 1998. (I’m a mathalete y’all!) So why is Deanna such a clueless fuddy-duddy? Seriously; I know eighty-year-olds that know more about life, the universe, and social media than this gal does. And another thing; if this gal was in school in the late 90s, she was born in the mid to late 70s. So how does she know so much about early 80s style and music? She was just a kid back then.
Yeah, to say I was underwhelmed with Life of the Party would be an understatement. In fact, I was face-palming through pretty much all of it, when I wasn’t talking to the screen like a crazy person, bemoaning the weirdness of many “jokes”. When a classmate tells Deanna that she’d been in a coma and that’s why she seems older than the rest of the girls, the dialogue after that is supposed to be funny, but was uncomfortable and tone-deaf. And don’t get me started on all the things in this film that would never happen in real life. A woman in her 40s getting dorm housing? And a college-age roommate? Plus, things like “old age” aches and pains only show up when they can be played for laughs. Think her sciatica is gonna keep her from doing The Worm? Nossir – jam on it!
Then there’s the “romance”. Deanna’s dalliance with college guy Jack (Luke Benward) is weird. No, not because of the age difference – they’re both of legal age so who cares – but because of they way Jack acts after the two hook up. It’s like nobody had ever touched his penis before. Party could have done more with their May/September romance, but instead decided to play it as a strange obsession on Jack’s part. Though I do have to admit there’s a scene later in the film that makes the romance worth it…but still? Overall it’s just a strange, wasted subplot that ultimately goes nowhere.
So why am I so mad at this film, when I absolutely adore iffy stuff like The Wedding Date, She’s All That, and The Holiday? Because this film feels tired. Phoned in. Patched together with crappy tape that’s starting to peel. Here and there I’d get a hint of the great movie it could have been, but then a joke gets run into the ground, or yet another completely implausible bit of bullshit hits the storyline. I like my completely implausible bullshit in my horror movies and chick flicks, thank you very much. Not in a comedy with such a stellar cast. When a bunch of killer comedic talent gets together, I expect more than this messy hodgepodge.
And the cast is stellar. Of course McCarthy is amazing, but Party has Julie Bowen, Stephen Root, Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell…yeah, it’s a great cast doing the grownups thing. But pity poor Molly Gordon (Animal Kingdom); as Deanna’s college age daughter Maddie, she’s got little to do but act exasperated. I’m not sure if Gordon decided at the jump that this film wasn’t gonna be great so she phoned it in, or if her table-reading level performance means she’s really that bad of an actress. I hope for the former, as every now and again I’d see a light in her eyes that promised more than what she was currently serving up.
Think I can’t say anything good? Well now. I gotcha. And I’ve got two things that made me happy. First, Gillian Jacobs (Community) as Maddie’s sorority sister (and “Coma Girl”), Helen. Jacobs goes for broke in this role, giving Helen a mix of savvy and snark that’s absolutely refreshing in-between bits of scenes ripped off from better films. Heck, make a drinking game of all the film “homages” you see in Party. You’ll be blotto less than halfway through.
Oh sorry. The good. Second, Heidi Gardner (SNL) as Deanna’s goth-to-11 dorm-mate Leonore. Gardner could have played this bed-and-black-clothes loving gal as a cookie cutter cliche, but there’s a touch of fragility and longing in Leonore. Gardner and McCarthy have a great onscreen chemistry too, which is lovely but only serves to highlight the average connection McCarthy and Gordon have onscreen.
A waste of good talent, and two hours. Goddammit, I feel cheated.