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Thursday, 10 May 2018

Review: Life of the Party

When she’s dumped by her husband two minutes after they drop their daughter off at college, Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) bounces back fast. Unfortunately her method of bouncing back is to sign up for college alongside Maddie (Molly Gordon) and finally get her degree in archeology. Deanna’s good-natured but cloying efforts to be “one of the gals” soon makes her the center of attention, especially among Maddie's somewhat quirky peers; clearly there's going to be big trouble ahead. 

But this film – a reworking of the 80s Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School so bland it's hard to figure out why they bothered – is firmly determined to avoid any trace of drama or conflict. Often it feels like all involved would rather be making some kind of "you can do it!" inspirational text for middle aged women looking to restart their lives. Which is fine, but those things aren't exactly known for bringing the laughs.

So rather than picking up any of a dozen obvious plot threads, or even exploring the handful of ones they do establish, Deanna’s return to university rapidly becomes a trouble-free fantasy of sleeping with hot guys and reclaiming the identity her loveless too-soon marriage stripped from her. And that's all.

The mother-daughter friction promised by the set-up never materialises beyond a few awkward looks, no-one has any problem with a mature-age student basically taking over the campus, while both the classroom drama (it turns out Deanna’s not great at giving presentations) and some minor sorority hassles are barely speed bumps in her relentless victory march towards a big party that - surprise! - turns out to be yet another triumph. 

McCarthy remains one of the more energetic comedy performers around, but this relies far more than it should on that energy. Just because we want her to succeed doesn't mean we want her to succeed effortlessly, especially when it means everyone and everything around her barely registers. Perhaps some of these ideas - the wacky friends, her archeology puns - seemed funny enough early on to balance things out and make this a comedy that would actually be funny for 105 minutes. 

They aren't. This isn't.

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