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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Life of the Party

I'm willing to admit that the problem lies with me.  I detested Life of the Party with such ferocity and with every fiber of my being that I have to wonder if the movie really is as bad as I remember it being.  This is a film that rubbed me the wrong way from beginning to end.  It's not just that this is yet another comedy with no laughs.  It's toothless, pointless, and just obnoxious.

After my screening, I found myself going back over the movie in my mind, looking for any scrap of honesty or inspiration.  I found none.  There's also not a single second that seems to be based on real life.  The movie is just a colossal miscalculation on every level.  For one thing, I don't think the movie is even really all that interested in being funny.  It would rather be nice, and is so concerned with having us fall in love with its characters that it forgets to be funny.  Comedy works best when there is an edge, or a kind of truth behind it.  This movie just wants to be a pleasant time, but goes about it all wrong, making its characters into insufferable saps who are brainless and dull.

The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, a 40-something woman who gets dumped by her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) in the film's opening scene.  He's fallen in love with another woman (Julie Bowen), and kicks her out of her own home.  With nowhere to go and her life seemingly at a dead end, Deanna begins to think back on how she dropped out of college right before her Senior year, because she became pregnant with her only daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon).  With Maddie herself now about to start her Senior year at Decatur University, Deanna decides to join her and enrolls in an archeology course so that she can finish school.  What she plans to do beyond this, the movie never clues us in.

If you want to see this exact same idea done with actual humor, go and watch Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 film, Back to School.  Like I said, Life of the Party just wants to be nice, and not ruffle any feathers.  It's so insistent on not letting its audience think, that it virtually has no plot.  It's simply 105 minutes of failed sketches that revolve around Deanna bonding with Maddie's sorority sisters, helping cheer up her depressed and gloomy goth roommate, getting into arguments with a couple of mean girls who pick on her, and falling in love with a guy at school who is much younger than her.  None of these plots go anywhere, mean anything, or build to any substance.  Some don't even get resolved, the movie just seems to forget about them.  There's also a curious subplot dealing with Deanna being nervous about having to give an oral report in her class, because she's afraid to speak in front of people.  I say it is curious, because throughout the movie, Deanna frequently dances or performs in front of hundreds of people, even getting up on stage and singing with Christina Aguilera in concert at one point.  Someone who could get on stage and match dance moves with a pop star in front of thousands of cheering fans would have no problem giving a speech in class.

Also curious is how the movie treats the character of Maddie, the daughter.  It never seems quite sure what she thinks about her mom going to school with her.  When she first hears the news, she naturally seems nervous, and maybe embarrassed.  But then, a couple scenes later, she's supportive and encouraging Deanna to come to a frat party with her and her friends.  Later in the movie, when Deanna finds out that her ex-husband is getting married to his new woman, Deanna and her friends decide to crash the wedding and trash it.  Maddie, who happens to be attending her dad's wedding, again seems embarrassed.  But the very next scene, she's helping to arrange a big party that can raise money to keep Maddie in school, since her ex-husband has cut her off financially after her stunt.  We never get the expected scene where mother and daughter work through their problems and explore their relationship.  I guess the filmmakers feared that scene would take away time from more pivotal scenes where Deanna wears funny clothes, falls over things, and does funny dances.

I would normally say that Melissa McCarthy (who is usually much better than the desperately unfunny performance she gives here) was probably roped into this project somehow, but it turns out she co-wrote the script with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the film.  So, this is clearly her vision, and the movie she wanted to make.  If that's true, I can only chalk this up to a moment of complete and utter lack of judgement on her part.  I'm sure she'll be back to her senses soon.  I can only hope, because I don't know if I can take another movie like this.  Life of the Party is so bad, it makes Billy Madison with Adam Sandler look like a thoughtful and quiet meditation on the education process.

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