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'Life of the Party': Celebrates the Joys of Mediocrity

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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If you redo in black and white director Ben Falcone's "Life of the Party," wherein suddenly divorced Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) returns to college after dropping out 20 years ago, you've epitomized any number of escapist comedies that populated theaters during the Great Depression. 
 
Light, frothy confections that specialized in proving that one can indeed turn lemons into lemonade, they featured silly but likeable characters who, through some unseen benevolent power or just sheer luck, were able to navigate a series of farcical and convoluted perplexions.
 
Even the villains in such fare are rather lighthearted foils as opposed to full-bodied miscreants, destined not for harsh retribution, but ironic, embarrassing comeuppance at most. Their objectionable behavior ultimately pales and withers in the face of our protagonist's exemplary good character. In this world, fairness is destined to prevail, and stumbling blocks are there only because they are required form, and so that we'll have something to cheer about when they are
happily hurdled. It's all feel-good, and tacitly promised that no curveball will be thrown.
 
Thus, the tolerant viewer intent on nothing more than a bit of frivolity to complement the imbibing of popcorn, perhaps some Goobers, a Diet Coke and a raft of cheese nachos, is likely to forgive "Life of the Party" its commercial obviousness. Why spoil the feast? The cinema likes of O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1962) will be along soon enough, and it might do well to bolster one's self with a bit of nonsense before viewing something more likely to be
accompanied not by nonpareils, but by bread and water.
 
As in the case of Rodney Dangerfield and other famous comedy draws who began their careers via stand-up, "Life of the Party" is essentially a medium in which Melissa McCarthy is provided almost full rein to showcase her politely brash shtick. Dialogue is really feature-length monologue in disguise as Deanna, kicked to the curb by her drip of an unappreciative husband, Dan, played by Matt Walsh, waxes witty from opening scene to closing credits. Making up for
lost time in re-enrolling at Decatur University to finish that elusive fourth year, it's all about her.
 
Of course it just so happens to be where her only offspring, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is in her senior year. Gee, hope this doesn't put the kibosh on Maddie's social life at dear old Decatur.
 
But while the script dabbles in some mommy-daughter issues, it's all pie-in-the-sky, idealistic stuff carefully scripted not to upset the optimistic lilt of things. Featuring a group of Maddie's sorority sisters who ostensibly play the adulating chorus to Deanna's odd mixture of wisdom and surprisingly bawdy exploits, they unfold no more dimension than Snow White's dwarves.
 
Needless to note, our newly minted co-ed, who just after enrolling ebulliently declares that she is already experiencing senioritis, evokes the advantage of age and experience the second time around. And, paying a little lip service to middle-aged vanity while earning some compensation for her hubby's dastardly kick in the teeth, Deanna soon finds herself romantically pursued by young and handsome fellow senior, Jack (Luke Benward). He begs her to quit school and go back-packing. Nope. Been there, done that. Besides, she now requires luggage with wheels.
 
Other funny lines, innuendoes and trumped up cataclysms are sporadically sprinkled along the path where a less trivial film would manifest a plot. There is no gravity here, just a random jumble of stitched together situations. Its instruction comes from the oracle of Pollyanna films which, if asked to comment on the state of things, could be counted on to issue the profoundly chimerical, "It's all good." The chief aim is an ennoblement of the overlooked and the negligently cast off, featuring redemption and/or self-realization for all the characters we like.
 
Minor subplots and interspersed running gags are nonetheless included not only for their comical potential, but as a thickening agent, a guar gum of story construction to stretch the screenplay between McCarthy's comic outpourings. Most memorable of the ploys, in a movie that you otherwise forget before even getting to your car, is Heidi Gardner as Leonor, Deanna's Goth roommate. And, in a portrayal that has us wondering whether it's suddenly OK again to find humor in drunkenness, Maya Rudolph as the best friend is the tippler in question.
 
While giving this movie two popcorns, I hasten to note that, unlike most other reels of mediocrity to which I issue a miserly two, I don't want my money back. Borrowing from the same meaningless vernacular that coined the aforementioned "It's all good," quite plainly, this "Is what it is." The lack of pretension goes a long way to forgiving the film for pandering to our least common denominator tastes. After all, who is above a little fluff? Besides, if I were to be too harsh on "Life of the Party," that would sort of make me a party pooper, so to speak.
 
"Life of the Party," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Ben Falcone and stars Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph and Luke Benward. Running time: 105 minutes

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