Melissa McCarthy vehicles have always been a mixed bag, as we've been treated to some pretty funny stuff like Spy, yet some pretty horrific stuff like Identity Thief in pretty equal fashion. If there's any moment that summarizes which side her latest film, Life of the Party, lands on, it's in a sequence where her protagonist attempts to follow a frat house drinking chant, but ends up with her character tacking on forced messages of social relevance. That's exactly what this film does, and it does so in the most annoying way possible.
After her husband announces he's leaving her for another woman, Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) decides to pick up where she left off in her studies, and dedicates herself to going back to college. Shenanigans ensue, as she goes from housewife to sorority housemate, as Deanna's studies will land her in the direct path of the three R's - romance, rivalries, and really embarrassing situations.
Right out the gate, the biggest problem with Life of the Party is the fact that the film's plot has absolutely no cohesion whatsoever. Writing any synopsis for this film is difficult, as the events that happen are loosely connected by the fact that Deanna is going to college after a horrific breakup, and she's gonna get her mojo back! Rather than layer some connective tissue that would establish crucial facts in this universe, like her ex-husband being the one that's paying her way through college, the film just sort of lets things happen in their own due time. And as for those forced social messages, they come almost always at the wrong time, with no setup, and ultimately derail whatever path the film was following for that moment.
This removes any sort of urgency to the plot of Life of the Party, which would be enough of a problem on its own. It certainly does this film no favors when this is compounded by the poor character development and deployment, which sees even Melissa McCarthy's on-screen daughter going from embarrassment for her mother, to totally being cool with her mom being at college, while also disappearing from the film for a good stretch until she's needed for the film's final push. It's a problem that applies to the entire cast at the film's disposal, as this script did not know what to do with either its characters or its story. Even the rivalries are one-dimensional cliches that never go anywhere, and college bonding films typically thrive on that sort of thing.
And yet, there are moments that actually work in the total context of Life of the Party, and they're all pretty much short, one-off gags that breeze through the film's barrage of intentionally awkward comedy. In particular, Maya Rudolph's best friend character gets to punch some scenery with effective laugh lines, brightening up the mostly dismal comedic landscape that McCarthy co-wrote with the film's director, husband Ben Falcone. Also helping support some of the film's weaker moments are gems from co-stars Gillian Jacobs, Matt Walsh, and Julie Bowen, who all shine from time to time. There's even a moment where a huge twist is dropped in the middle of the film's narrative that, while it affects nothing vital to the film's plot, manages to secure a seriously funny string of moments.
The math doesn't work out over time though, as for every laugh Life of the Party earns, there's at least five gags that stretch way past their limits of tolerance. While you're laughing at the moments that don't beg you to laugh, you'll find yourself hit with several attempts to make "Down To Clown" or "Can I Say Something?" into a catchphrase coming to a Hot Topic t-shirt near you. It is the epitome of what happens when you mate an unfunny SNL sketch with a sitcom pilot that wouldn't even find a home on most dubious of networks.
One half of Life of the Party is trying to be a fun college movie, even going as far as to invoke memories of such films as National Lampoon's Animal House and Back To School, while the other half is trying to tell a story of woke female empowerment. If either half had given even an inch towards the other side, this might have been a completely different, but infinitely watchable, comedy altogether. As it stands, this movie should be put on Double Secret Probation, and forced to do a Double Lindy into a shallow swimming pool.