As moms get ready to send their children off to college, they might want to look at Melissa McCarthy’s “Life of the Party.”
As one of their kind, she gives her daughter all the hugs, kisses and baked goods a college student needs.
Then, McCarthy’s Deanna discovers her husband (Matt Walsh) is having an affair and wants a divorce. Rather than stay home (“I don’t want to start a blog,” she admits), she decides to go back to Decatur University and finish her degree.
While the concept sounds fairly tame, director Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) gives it a little oomph by making the new Deanna something of a cougar. She falls for a much younger man (Luke Benward) and begins to enjoy her time at school.
Surprisingly, her daughter (Molly Gordon) accepts mom’s presence and pulls her into her sorority. There, she meets all kinds of people – including a girl who has been in a coma – who come to rely on her mothering instincts to survive.
Because there’s nothing new about any of this – it’s like an extended “Saturday Night Live” skit – the film depends on how well McCarthy delivers, even when the material is thin. Thankfully, she has Maya Rudolph (as a longtime friend) to help carry some of the freight, particularly when they’re in the range of her ex. The two know plenty of mom-isms and aren’t afraid to joke about C-section scars and incontinence.
Rated PG-13, “Life of the Party” doesn’t go where it hints. That May-December relationship is suggested, not shown. A showdown with two mean girls stops before it gets lethal. The film, as a result, is tamed, not neutered.
Falcone (who makes a brief appearance as an Uber driver) obviously wanted to make this a valentine to moms, not an “Animal House” for the new millennium. He gets a lift from “Coma Girl” (Gillian Jacobs), who helps propel the plot, but doesn’t plant enough extraneous characters to give McCarthy a rest.
The joy of “Bridesmaids” was the way director Paul Feig selectively used McCarthy to goose his film. Here, she has to hunt, dress and cook the goose.
Naturally, she gets big results from visual and physical humor. McCarthy is not afraid to look bad, but she’s also not one to step on those who brought her. Her mom, as a result, is a loving, caring, smart person who stepped aside so others could prosper from her support. Once in the driver’s seat, she’s not sure how to deal with the freedom and, sometimes, finds herself lost.
A good film is lurking in “Life of the Party,” particularly since McCarthy is attached (she also wrote it), but it needs the eye of someone outside the family to truly see what’s best for everyone.