Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Melissa McCarthy is doing what she does best in her new comedy "Life of The Party:" using her presence to elevate what is, otherwise, a thinly written script into a decent movie. I liked her in "The Boss" and even laughed at "Tammy," I wasn't laughing at the jokes, I was laughing at McCarthy. Because even when the movie is bad, she’s still good. I have a soft spot for the actress because of her immensely likable and charmingly funny personality. And, at least for me, that goodwill slightly extends in this fine mother/daughter flick.
Like Amy Schumer did last month with "I Feel Pretty," McCarthy is relinquishing the R rated reigns in favor of a more friendly, less vulgar, PG13 rating. It never affects what "Party" is trying to accomplish as McCarthy portrays Deanna, a middle-aged mom who decides to head back to college and finally get that degree. If you've seen "Old School" or "Back To School" then parents shacking up with college-aged kids at parties is nothing new.
But the ensemble that surrounds McCarthy isn't that bad; her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) along with her group of interesting friends (one was in a coma for eight years, and has garnered a massive social media following) have taken a liking to Deanna. And who wouldn't? She's a blast of fresh air. Maya Rudolph also showcases her chops as the obsessive best friend eager to live through Deanna's exploits (which includes routine hookups with a beefy frat boy inside a library.)
Not to say that all of 'Party's' jokes land: as director/writer (and husband to McCarthy) Ben Falcone tends to put all the pressure on his spouse. And even though I respect McCarthy for trying her best, some of the material just whiffs. I never understood why Deanna had a dramatic mental breakdown while giving an oral presentation in her archaeology class (which, also, never expands beyond the classroom.) I mean, I get being nervous but passing out and making a huge fuss seemed like a bit of a stretch. Then you have Debby Ryan playing the prissy, token blondie that has beef with every girl in the school and spouts insults like "You're wearing an ugly mom sweater" or "Get out of my way freaks." When will Hollywood learn?
It wasn't until the second act that "Party" started to win me over with its charm. And while the whole plot about Deanna's husband (played by Matt Walsh) leaving her for an uptight realtor (played by "Modern Family's" Julie Bowen) is a tad flimsy, it offers a fun payoff towards the end, that delivers the best laugh in the entire movie.
The normal troupes still apply: drugs, binge drinking, and '80s themed parties, but the familiarity doesn't kill "Party" it actually makes it better. Plus, watching McCarthy in her element is never a bad thing, she's just stronger with a fun co-star (I think her best movie is "The Heat" with Sandra Bullock.) At least "Party" doesn't try to be anything else, and embraces the idea of a believable mother and daughter relationship, despite a few long stretches of laughless air.
Still, the day will come when McCarthy makes another drop-dead hit like "The Heat" or "Bridesmaids" where she can be funny and have a decent script to back her up. And when that day arrives, I'll be waiting in the wings saying 'I told you so.'