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Life of the Party review - made worth watching by its hilarious and overqualified cast

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Comedy royalty Melissa McCarthy co-writes and stars as Deanna in Life of the Party, a college fluffball comedy about a mother who, after her husband leaves her, decides to finish her college degree at her alma matter, at which her daughter is now a senior.

The film is an odd mix of ‘been there, done that’ and refreshing perspectives, and though the film is by no means in the same league as Bridesmaids, The Heat or Spy (all three directed by Paul Feig), no film which stars Melissa McCarthy can be a complete miss.

Where the dialogue may be weak at times, and the narrative predictable, the hilarious and frankly overqualified cast make Life of the Party worth watching. Filled with Saturday Night Live alumni Maya Rudolph, Heidi Gardner, and Chris Parnell, along with comedy actors Gillian Jacobs and Matt Walsh, even the weakest scripts are heightened.

Beyond being a veritable check list for a PG-rated slapstick college comedy, featuring over-the-top frat parties, snarky mean girls with no story, an out-of-the-blue dance off, a speedy but dramatic makeover, and accidental drug-taking, the film is also a welcome departure from many genre clichés.

McCarthy’s daughter, played very naturally by newcomer Molly Gordon, quickly adjusts to her mum joining her college and mingling with her friends, while her sorority sisters immediately embrace Deanna into their circle, and student hunk Jack (Luke Benward) develops a ‘thing’ for Deanna upon the first night of meeting her.

Everything that could have been awkward and cringy are in fact surprisingly sweet, constantly overturning expected stereotypes of conflicting mother-daughter relationships, of cross-generational animosity, and of sudden life changes always being patronised as midlife crises.

Second chances are presented in a positive light, and the bonds of sisterhood among the cast’s many women are tangible and celebrated; even the strange relationship between Deanna and Jake is confoundingly sweet. The film makes it to the finish by the sheer force of its joyful goofiness.

The tone of the movie doesn’t allow for McCarthy to showcase her talents in more unusual and lewd comedy, which is somewhat of a shame given its successes in Bridesmaids and Spy, but it does not dampen her overwhelming energy and physical comedy chops.

What audiences get is a light-hearted, fairy tale-like story to watch with your mum, which was the point of releasing it on Mother’s Day in the United States. On the downside, this results in a sometimes flat, and definitely predictable storyline, but McCarthy and Rudolph work tirelessly to rescue it, and are mostly successful.

Life of the Party may not turn out to be particularly memorable, nor mark any of these heavy comedy hitters’ best performances, but does provide its audience with a couple of hours of comforting, lovable, and harmless good fun. And sometimes that’s you can ask from a film.

Life of the Party is out now, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

 

 




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