Movie Beat: Melissa McCarthy fun in surprisingly sweet “Life of the Party”
By Jenniffer Wardell
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
Directed by Ben Falcone
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Molly Gordon, Julie Bowen, Stephen Root, Luke Benward, Maya Rudolph and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
Melissa McCarthy has two modes. Half the time, I find her delightfully entertaining. The other half, I wonder why I ever found her funny.
Thankfully, “Life of the Party” falls firmly into the first category. Sweet, slightly raunchy, and surprisingly thoughtful, the movie is a fun look at the power of female friendship and deciding what you want out of life. The embarrassment humor is still high, and the structure is a little bit of a mess, but it’s a surprisingly entertaining couple of hours.
The movie starts with McCarthy in full stereotypical “mom” mode, complete with the headband and bedazzled sweatshirt, as she drops her daughter off for her senior year at college. After her husband suddenly announces that he wants a divorce, however, she fulfills her old dream of finishing her archeology degree at the same school her daughter is at. As the year progresses, she learns more about herself, has some adventures, and finds friends she never would have imagined.
This is a girl power movie for middle-aged women, and I mean that in the best possible sense. McCarthy’s character gets a confidence makeover rather than a strictly physical one (her style does get updated by her daughter in a surprisingly cute background scene, but only in a very casual way). She has a fling with a hot young college guy (who seems genuinely enamored of her), re-discovers her passion for her career, encourages the women around her, and does it all without letting go of her sense of self.
Though there’s a healthy dose of embarrassment humor – McCarthy’s anxiety during one class presentation was physically painful for me to watch – there are plenty of other comedy moments to enjoy. One particularly delightful one at a nice restaurant (though that’s all I’ll tell you about it, because I don’t want to spoil it) is particularly hilarious and satisfying for anyone who’s enjoyed a revenge fantasy or two.
Most surprising of all, however, are the movie’s serious notes. It says some smart, necessary things about knowing what you really want in life, and that it’s okay if we all want different things or don’t know the answer to the question yet. McCarthy’s character explores some fairly serious things that will probably affect a ton of women in even vaguely similar situations, and though there’s naturally a fantasy element to the whole movie she doesn’t come up with any easy answers.
And through it all, her relationship with her daughter is the emotional heart of the movie. McCarthy and Molly Gordon are wonderfully sweet and genuine together, juggling the natural potential for embarrassment with the obvious love between the two of them.
So if you’ve ever been fond of Melissa McCarthy, or just need a girl power movie that doesn’t put a maximum age cap on the word “girl,” then “Life of the Party” is definitely worth a visit.
(Photo ©Warner Bros.)