Scene After Scene Overstays Its Welcome In Melissa McCarthy’s "Life Of The Party"

After the anti-comedic horrors of “Tammy” and “The Boss,” Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone team up for a third big screen collaboration, “Life Of The Party.” It’s a step in the right direction, if only a baby step.

McCarthy co-writes and stars; Falcone co-writes and directs. The occasional giggles they elicit from their warmed over “middle-aged mom and recent divorcee goes back to college” premise are negated by their inability to follow William Faulkner’s famous advice and kill their darlings. Scene after scene overstays its welcome, strewn with dead air and failed jokes, the telltale sign of a creative team unwilling to put their film through the merciless edit it requires.

Audiences are left holding the bag: a subpar 105-minute comedy that could have been a solid 80-minute one.

McCarthy leads as Deanna Miles, inhabiting the same dorky Midwestern stereotype she played in Seth Gordon’s “Identity Thief” and Paul Feig’s “Spy.” As Deanna and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) drop their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college, Dan goes full empty nest syndrome and instantly asks for a divorce. He’s seeing a local realtor (Julie Bowen) and evidently has been for some time.

Crestfallen, Deanna decides to rebuff her station as housewife and return to school to finally get her degree – the same school her daughter attends.

Nothing that follows is as funny as the similar “Arrested Development” season 4 subplot that sees Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) move into the dorm room of his son George Michael (Michael Cera). But a likable supporting cast headlined by Gillian Jacobs (TV’s “Community”) provides little shots of fun to Deanna’s journey from forty-something loser to campus legend. PG-13 hijinks arrive in the form of predictable sequences like 80s-themed frat parties and embarrassing classroom moments, each good for a chuckle or two.

“Saturday Night Live” vet Maya Rudolph is reliably amusing as Deanna’s best adult friend, Christine, keeping as many scenes as she can from dying on the vine.

Despite Rudolph’s best efforts, the movie is wildly undisciplined, its aim akin to a drunk pinging between carnival games. There are scattered hits, oodles of misses, and a vague sense of regret when it all crawls across the finish line. The feeling is enhanced by a puzzling climax that features an appearance by one-time pop superstar Christina Aguilera, a cameo that instantly dates the movie at least a decade.

McCarthy still has a string of bona fide delights to her name (her four collaborations with Paul Feig have all been winners), and she’s increasingly flexing her not insignificant dramatic muscles (see: Ted Melfi’s “St. Vincent”). And yet, it all seems to fall apart when she and Falcone work together. “Life Of The Party” has more laughs than “Tammy” and “The Boss” combined, but it’s still a red mark on a frustratingly spotty filmography.

It’s become all too easy to forget that McCarthy was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for her breakout performance in Feig’s “Bridesmaids.” How time flies.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: May 11, 2018
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.)
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenwriters: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Julie Bowen, Matt Walsh, Molly Gordon, Stephen Root, Jacki Weaver, Luke Benward, Heidi Gardner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, drug content and partying)