Movie review: Life of the Party relies on recycled gags

In the low-on-laughs comedy, Life of the Party, Melissa McCarthy deals with a personal crisis by going back to school. Courtesy Warner Bros. In the low-on-laughs comedy, Life of the Party, Melissa McCarthy deals with a personal crisis by going back to school. Courtesy Warner Bros.

Credit is due to Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy for their efforts to inject meaningful emotions into broad comedies without punching down or relying on unwarranted meanness for their punchlines. But it would help if those punchlines were funny.

Back in 2013, their collaboration on Tammy used McCarthy’s star power to tell a sweet story about a woman trying to find herself after a sudden separation from her cheating husband uprooted her life. Now in 2018, we have almost the exact same story—woman trying to find herself, cheating husband, uprooted life—that aims more for comedy than Tammy did and eliminates the motivation for the punchlines or hugs that happen anyway. The resulting movie, Life of the Party, is one that has a couple laugh-out-loud moments but fills in between with directionless gags that the phenomenally talented cast can’t rescue.

Life of the Party
PG-13, 110 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

We meet Deanna (McCarthy) as she and her husband are dropping off their daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), for her senior year in college. As they drive away, before they’re even at the end of the sorority’s driveway, Deanna’s husband, Dan (Matt Walsh) says he is in love with another woman, he wants a divorce and is selling the house. Deanna, who was previously enrolled at the same school as her daughter but dropped out her senior year when she became pregnant, decides to finish her degree in archaeology with a new lease on life.

It’s not a bad premise, and though strikingly similar to Back to School starring Rodney Dangerfield, McCarthy and Falcone do find places to explore worthwhile topics. A few times they even subvert what might have been gross-out or punching-down lines with real humanity. The awkwardness of having your mother present for your college experience—partying, dating, getting to know roommates, maintaining your social status while keeping good grades—is real, but a loving relationship is more important. Characters who exist only for a momentary gag are never humiliated, so points to Life of the Party for civility.

If only there were more to it. The jokes play like TV edits of R-rated movies in that the teeth feel removed. Three riotous moments are connected by the most boring storytelling in recent memory. The performers do what they can with the material but there is so much dead space that even a cast of improv talent this strong (Walsh, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph) can’t make anything of it. Promising setups are left to die on the vine, and adequate jokes are smothered to death with endless vamping and repeat-the-thing-that-just-happened gags that are so popular these days.

Life of the Party is a comedy like a plate of chips and melted cheese but with no peppers or beans or nachos—maybe technically accurate by some definition, but bereft of key elements that make it worthwhile. Subject yourself to it only if you don’t like fun.

Playing this week

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk
Sq., 326-5056

A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, I Feel Pretty, Revenge, RBG, Tully

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

A Quiet Place, A Wrinkle in Time, Avengers: Infinity War, Bad Samaritan, Black Panther, Breaking In, I Feel Pretty, Overboard, Rampage

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown
Mall, 529-3000

A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, Breaking In, I Feel Pretty, Isle of Dogs, Lean on Pete, Oh Lucy!, RBG, Tully

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