Itâ€™s possible that no one will believe this, but about an hour into â€śLife of the Party,â€ť I figured out that Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, wrote the screenplay and that Falcone directed it.
I did this without prior knowledge or checking, not through some great flash of critical insight, but because of a family resemblance that anyone could recognize: â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť is a little too much like â€śTammy.â€ť
â€śTammyâ€ť from 2014 was a sentimental picture that turned McCarthy into a laugh-clown-laugh figureÂ â€” something all comedians secretly seem to crave, and the enemy and death of all things funny. Like â€śTammy,â€ť â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť begins with a scene in which she discovers that her husband of many years has been cheating on her, followed by an interlude of McCarthy weeping. Many scenesÂ â€” and I mean many, many scenesÂ â€” consist of people telling McCarthy how wonderful she is, and how much they love her and of her saying, in response, that she thinks theyâ€™re great and loves them, too.
Are you laughing yet?
The setup here is that, following her separation, the wonderful, giving and affectionate Deanna (McCarthy) decides to finish her archeology degree, and so she re-enrolls in her alma mater, which also happens to be the school that her daughter (Molly Gordon) attends. â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť bypasses one possible source of comedyÂ â€” momâ€™s relentless presence drives daughter crazyÂ â€” by making Deanna a welcome addition, one instantly beloved of the daughterâ€™s sorority sisters, who not only think Deannaâ€™s great, but tell her. Repeatedly.
Unfortunately, there are comic limits to a character whose only note is sweetness. Thereâ€™s a scene in which Deanna and her soon-to-be- ex-husband are going through arbitration as part of the divorce settlement. To the negotiating table, she brings her best friend (played by Maya Rudolph) and it says something about the skewed nature of this comedy that Rudolph is the funniest person in the scene.
How strange. McCarthy is hilarious in every movie sheâ€™s in, except in the ones that she and her husband create for her.
The screenplay is also strange. It goes out of its way to avoid conflict or drama or crisis, and it fails to provide a single narrative reason to keep watching from one scene to the next. â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť presents a situation more than a story, and in that itâ€™s more like a sitcom than a conventional movie. It shows various things that can happen when a mother attends her daughterâ€™s school, but you can almost take the scenes and shuffle their order, and nothing much would change.
Actually, if there is a structure, it might be this: The movie seems to be organized so that the weakest scenes come first and the funniest scenes come later. So â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť gets better as it goes along. The movie gets mileage out of Deannaâ€™s sexual relationship with a handsome student half her age, milking the gag in ways that are increasingly funny. And thereâ€™s one genuinely hilarious scene that takes place in a restaurant, in which all the principal characters come together in unexpected ways. Yet, not surprisingly, McCarthy is the least funny person in it.
One can imagine the argument for this. Perhaps Falcone and McCarthy think that a movie such as â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť gives her a chance to expand her range, but whereâ€™s the expansion? Into sentimentality? Into not being funny?
The almost good news is that in â€śLife of the Partyâ€ť they still manage, even with their best asset (McCarthy) practically neutralized, to come up with enough laughs to squeak by. But this same premise, in the hands of a different writer and director, could have been funnier.