Every two years, like clockwork, Melissa McCarthy makes a movie with her husband Ben Falcone; she stars, he directs and they both write. In 2014 it was Tammy; in 2016, The Boss—easily the worst pictures of her career. This year’s family project is Life of the Party, and unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), it continues the pattern.
For a while, it looks like this one might be different. McCarthy plays Deanna Marsh, a gushing mom who heaps affection on her college-bound daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) like a pastry chef icing a two-ton wedding cake. No sooner have Deanna and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) dropped Maddie off at college—leaving Maddie relieved to see the back of her—than Dan tells her he wants a divorce; he’s in love with a real estate agent named Marcie (Julie Bowen).
Deanna falls to pieces in front of her best friend (Maya Rudolph) and parents (Stephen Root, Jacki Weaver), then pulls herself together. She decides that what she needs is to finish the education she put on hold to raise Maddie. She and Maddie are going to be schoolmates! Maddie is politely horrified.
Once the premise is set up, this unabashed star vehicle promptly runs out of gas. McCarthy and Falcone have no idea where to take the story from there. Is Deanna a fish out of water, or exactly the house-mom and buddy Maddie and her friends need? Frumpy misfit or a late-blooming hottie? Campus dork or too cool for school? Maddie’s hero or her humiliation? The movie just keeps throwing things at the screen hoping something will stick. Scenes seem to have been desperately improvised, then left in not because they work (they don’t) but because Falcone and McCarthy need the movie to run 105 minutes.
McCarthy is, of course, the whole show; as usual for her movies with Falcone, nobody else gets even a sliver of the spotlight. In Tammy, Toni Collette, Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates were forced to stand back for the star; in The Boss it was Kristen Bell (with the added indignity of being dressed and made up like something the cat dragged in); here it’s Modern Family’s Julie Bowen, trying to make her mark with approximately four nanoseconds of screen time.
Make no mistake, Life of the Party, like Tammy and The Boss before, is a vanity production pure and simple. The only question is whether Ben Falcone is catering to his wife’s vanity or she is catering to his. Either way, she should stick (professionally) with Paul Feig, who has shown in Bridesmaids, Spy and The Heat that he knows better how to harness and showcase McCarthy’s powerhouse talent than her own husband does.
Meanwhile, fair warning: The next McCarthy/Falcone release is slated for December 2019. At present, the title is Superintelligence. Oh, the irony.