Life of the Party

LIFE OF THE PARTY. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Matt Walsh, and Jackie Weaver. Also starring Debby Ryan, Gillian Jacobs, and Adria Arjona. Directed by Ben Falcone. Rated M (Sexual references). 105min.

This American comedy tells the story of a middle-aged mother, Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) who returns to college in small town-USA, after being told by her husband that he wants a divorce.

Deanna is a dedicated housewife and mother, who does what she can for both her husband, Dan (Matt Walsh) and her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon). She looks after them, tries to give them what they want, and devotes her life to them, and she is the kind of person, who keeps her personal aspirations mostly on hold.  When Dan unexpectedly informs her that he wants a divorce, Deanna is desperately upset, and she decides to go back to university college to finish a degree that she always wanted to complete. She feels that she is at a crossroad in her life, and heads back to college to fulfil a life-long dream.

When she enrols in College, she finds to her surprise that she has ended up in the same class as her daughter, Maddie, who is not happy with her mother’s decision. Maddie is embarrassed by her mother being there, and by how her mother behaves. At college, Deanna becomes outspoken and outrageous in her behaviour, and tests the limits of the relationship she has established with her daughter. Her reckless behaviour - with encouragement by her sorority sisters - is part of her attempt to leave past unhappiness behind her, and with full gusto she plunges headlong into college life, trying to forge a new identity for herself.

Melissa McCarthy has a comedy style that creates humour predominantly from physical situations she puts herself in. She brings excellent timing to her comedy routines, and attempts to extract laughter rather than quiet smiles from what she does. As a comedienne she is brash, confronting, intimidating, frequently crude, unsubtle, but brilliantly projects insecurity that invites viewers to experience her particular brand of discomfort  - being insecure, and wanting some release from life’s uncertainties.

In McCarthy’s movies, there is usually much better human bonding at the end of them than was evident at the start, and this film is no exception to that rule. In college, Deanna finds fresh freedom of expression, but she also deepens her relationship with her daughter in her efforts to find herself. The movie, however, is essentially a showcase for Melissa McCarthy who pulls the comic stops out in a steady array of situational scenarios. Potentially embarrassing situations pile on top of each other, and they accentuate the plight of someone who over-responds to  expectation.

The film might have dramatised the conflicts facing women who place their dreams on hold while trying to raise a family, or conflicts facing those who feel they need to escape from responsibilities, that are no longer exciting for them. It chooses to focus on female bonding and female empowerment, and uses a sentimentally delivered narrative thread to drive its positive bonding messages home.

The film was written by McCarthy and the movie’s director, Ben Falcone, but it is the situational comedy that extracts the laughter, not the dialogue, and some physical scenarios work much better than others. Australia’s Jackie Weaver is in the movie, and she quietly plays the role of Sandy, Deanna’s mother, who finds it hard to connect meaningfully with her daughter.

This is an escapist, light comedy that doesn’t plumb dramatic depths. It aims to arouse laughter wherever it can, and short on intelligent scripting, it finds its humour in physical, situational comedy, in which Melissa McCarthy’s comic talents excel. The movie takes time to warm up, but provides an entertaining night out for comic relief when the action gets going.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released May 10th.,  2018

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