LIFE OF THE PARTY (Ben Falcone). 105 minutes. Opens Friday (May 11). See listing. Rating: NNN
If I’m being honest, Life Of The Party is a weird title for Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy her character, Midwestern housewife turned middle-aged college senior Deanna Miles, is a little too nervous and self-conscious to ever really dominate a campus rager the way that phrase implies.
She can’t even join in the traditional Decatur toast – “What do we want?” “Full velocity!” – without blurting out what she really wants, which is equal pay for equal work. There’s even a sadness when she says it, as though she knows she should just go with the flow but can’t help herself.
Anyway, I’m just nit-picking. It’s funny, and that’s really all that matters. Life Of The Party is a lot like McCarthy’s last solo vehicle, The Boss, which she also co-wrote and co-produced with her husband, director Ben Falcone: It’s less of a movie than a collection of sketches organized around a character, slapped together with little regard for structure or continuity.
It’s a mess, but it works, with McCarthy snapping right into the character of Deanna, who decides to finish her long-dormant degree alongside her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) when her husband (Matt Walsh) walks out.
The script isn’t much more developed than that – it’s Back To School without Rodney Dangerfield’s money, or Legally Blonde without Reese Witherspoon’s fashion sense – but McCarthy and Falcone are smart enough to assemble a solid cast of supporting players and let everyone rip into whatever’s happening in a given scene.
The result, especially in the second half, is the sense that every last actor is fighting to steal every shot, whether by going big like Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Root and Julie Bowen, or by building small, charming characters as Gordon, Chris Parnell and Jessie Ennis do. (It’s either that, or Falcone and McCarthy never told the actors which cameras were running, which might explain some of the magnificent stuff Jacobs is doing with her face.)
And McCarthy is genuinely great at finding the honest moments in Deanna’s personal evolution, which aren’t always the ones you might expect. Full velocity.