Looking for something fun to take mom to for Mother's Day? Do your Mom (and yourself) a favor and steer clear of Life of the Party. Melissa McCarthy is comedy royalty – it's a scientific fact, look it up – but even the Bridesmaids star can't keep this mom-goes-to-college fluffball from flatlining.
McCarthy plays Deanna, a newly divorced housewife who enrolls at Decatur University to study archaeology. Right from the starting gate, the comedian feels harnessed by a plot that asks us to pity this woman because her jerk husband (Veep's Matt Walsh) has dumped her for another woman (Modern Family's Julie Bowen). Complications arise because Deanna's daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) is a senior at the same school. How can the kid not be horrified and humiliated that her mom will be around delivering snacks and mother-henning all over the place? Before you ask, "Say, doesn't this sound like Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 Back to School with a sex charge", let us assure folks that Life of the Party is not even remotely in the same hilarious league. It has PG-13 marshmallows where its metaphorical balls should be.
McCarthy falls into the same trap she did in Tammy and The Boss, the two other movies she wrote with her husband/director Ben Falcone. By that we mean she allows her laugh instincts to get buried in a blanket of bland. It's not a conincidence that the three best McCarthy screen vehicles so far – Spy, The Heat and Bridesmaids, for which she was Oscar nominated – were all directed by Paul Feig, a filmmaker who knows how to showcase her genuine gift for blending brash with bubbly charm.
Of course, no movie with McCarthy can be a total loss, and Life of the Party has its moments once the script stops making easy jokes about fish-outta-water cluelessness and lets McCarthy mix it up with a terrific-if-overqualified supporting cast. SNL's Heidi Gardner excels as Deanna’s goth roommate; Gillian Jacobs is a hoot as an adult student who returns to school after eight years in a coma (don't ask); and Maya Rudolph, as Deanna’s off-campus best friend, makes a perfect McCarthy sparring partner.
It's also a welcome departure from abundance of college-mom clichés that mother and daughter learn to co-exist, and that Deanna's "thing" with a wine-loving, student hunk (a terrific Luke Benward) packs a surprising sweetness. The rest, from a 1980's dance party (oh, those