Every year or two we get a Melissa McCarthy movie. Her breakout performance, you may recall, was in the bathroom scene in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” a very popular chick version of “The Hangover.”
Since then, there have been better and worse McCarthy-centered movies. This is not one of the better ones. It’s as if a McCarthy script-generator machine came up with the story after being programmed to produce a feminist version of “Animal House.”
In this outing, McCarthy is Deanna Miles, a nice housewife who has been dumped by her two-timing husband. She decides to finish her college degree at her alma mater, where her daughter also is a senior.
From there it’s off to the races. When Deanna seems a little dejected, one of her daughter’s friends suggests an uplifting experience: “We need to get you jackhammer blasted!”
After restyling Deanna’s hair and wardrobe, the girls go to a loud and lively fraternity party where Deanna meets and spends the night with a handsome male student half her age. The frat guy becomes very attached to Deanna, and shortly afterward they copulate in the school library. The (not entirely) unspoken message is that Deanna is beautiful and attractive and her husband was a fool.
(Imagine this movie with the sexes reversed: A frat boy’s father meets and beds a coed after a drunken campus party and then, smitten, continues to pursue her. Could you make that movie in 2018? I think not.)
In fact, “Life of the Party” is mostly about parties and only a little, teensy bit about college. We see maybe 10 minutes, total, of Deanna in one class, anthropology, where the professor gushes several times that she is his “favorite student.” (This is not creepy in the film — he’s her age and therefore too old. My guess is that the mechanical plot generator offered an alternate romantic subtheme that was rejected in the final production.)
Deanna’s only academic problem is that her midterm requires an oral presentation in front of the class. Unfortunately, Deanna is very shy and deeply fearful of public speaking.
You read that right: McCarthy/Deanna is a reticent woman who is afraid to speak in front of an audience. Now that’s funny.
Deanna’s daughter and her friends become a tight-knit girl-power group, sometimes in opposition to the two plot-generated mean girls. There are attempts to distinguish these and other actors, but mostly this is a Melissa McCarthy show.
The party ethic continues as Melissa and her posse, stoned on marijuana brownies, disrupt the ex-husband’s new wedding. Then mother and daughter graduate. But you knew all that.
And we wonder why college students don’t seem so serious these days.
This is not the kind of movie I prefer to watch, but I have been traveling a lot lately and was stuck without a car in the suburban redoubt. The local fourplex offered “Black Panther,” a good move I’d already seen, and two lesser shows that sounded worse than “Life of the Party.”
The general trend in American movie ticket sales is downward, and weak offerings like these make me understand why.