By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Melissa McCarthy is a very talented actress and comedian who has a mix of both great and not-so-great comedies in her filmography.  Her latest, Life of the Party, pretty much falls smack dab in the in the middle of that spectrum.  Though the movie has some very funny moments, and has a big, fuzzy warm heart, the story and plot are both pretty thin with conflicts that either get resolved easily or simply ignored at the end.  Still, this is probably a film that the die hard fans  of Melissa McCarthy will love, the moderate admirers might like, and her detractors will despise.  As for myself, I fall somewhere in between a die hard and a moderate.

McCarthy stars as Deanna Miles, a loving mother to daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) and caring wife to her not-so-caring husband Dan (Matt Walsh).  Immediately after the proud parents drop off Maddie at college to begin her senior year, Dan drops a huge bombshell by asking Deanna for a divorce.  Lost and despairing, Deanna decides to pull herself together and enroll in Maddie’s college so that she can complete the requirements for the degree she once sacrificed.  At first, Maddie is uncomfortable with her mother having a presence in her college life, but after her sorority sisters embrace Deanna like one of their own, she begins to welcome her company as well.  Deanna slowly, but surely, adapts to the life of studying, partying, among other extra-curricular activities.  This leads to some really awkward and uncomfortable moments of  totally different varieties.

Written and directed by Ben Falcone, who co-wrote the script with Melissa McCarthy, Life of the Party is mostly fun, lovable and benign entertainment.  Though a tad naughty, the PG-13 rated film is mostly tame, though wilder content gets only strongly hinted through dialogue.  The story is rather simple and light and doesn’t really offer anything too strikingly different.  The film plays out like a mild, less raunchy, Back to School (the Rodney Dangerfield movie), but with a female protagonist.  Because the main character is a woman, it does have an empowering central message, but just isn’t presented very powerfully.  Still, I found myself enjoying most of the mildly amusing humor which allow Melissa McCarthy to offer some great improvisations, though some of the jokes fall flat.

Despite the film’s limitations, McCarthy rocks this role with much dedication and panache. She is mostly likable as the nerdy and slightly cartoonish Deanna Miles.  I also enjoyed some additional comedy by Gillian Jacobs who portrays sorority sister Helen. The film also features Julie Bowen, Debby Tyan, Heidi Gardner, Stephen Root, Maya Rudolph, and Jacki Weaver, and Chris Parnell in limited, but enjoyable roles.

And well, limited pretty much describes this movie rather well.  Although I liked it overall, it isn’t exactly a film which deserves a lot of hyperbole.  I do like Melissa McCarthy in top comedic form, but this movie falls somewhat short of that level.  I think it is worth a watch for her fans, but within the comfort of one’s home.

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