With a title like “Life of the Party” and a familiar comedian like Melissa McCarthy, many expectations about the types of jokes and situations that will be found in the film arise as one enters the theater. McCarthy is known for her often buttoned-up and seemingly innocent characters, who experience a massive change or problem in their lives and suddenly transform into wacky personas; a storyline that follows suit in her newest feature.
In the movie, McCarthy plays a newly-divorced mother, Deanna, who, in the midst of a midlife crisis, decides to go back to college and complete her degree. Only now she will be graduating in the same class as her daughter. Despite the knee-slapping hijinks that McCarthy and her new pals get into, the film portrays a painfully outdated view of college life and young adult culture, passing on an opportunity for amusing political commentary in exchange for antiquated and underwhelming slapstick comedy.
The film begins quite abruptly as McCarthy’s character drops her daughter Maddie off at Decatur University for her senior year in college. Minutes later, Deanna is in tears as her husband, Dan, ruthlessly asks for a divorce as soon as his wife gets back into the car to head home. Deanna, hopelessly distraught, fails to find solace in anybody except her daughter Maddie, who subtly prompts her to follow through with her degree and go back to Decatur to study archaeology. From there, Maddie’s sorority sisters adopt Deanna as their own, inducting her into their sorority, parading her around to parties and showing her the new age “college experience”.
However, this experience is unrealistic. Despite scenes with modern technology, where Deanna or Maddie are working on a laptop or the sorority sisters are tweeting the details of a party, the portrayal of the life of a college student in “Life of the Party” is incredibly dated. For one, the facilities at the university that Deanna and the crew attend seem quite outmoded. The library, filled with large, lined up metallic bookshelves and scattered obsolete desktops are evocative of a dying public institution rather than that of a flourishing, state of the art private university– director Ben Falcone’s intentions for the set. Even the lecture halls were small, with almost log-cabin-like features, reflective of a decaying and archaic university. These elements present in the film were not only unrealistic, but they drew attention away from the plotline.
The facilities of Decatur University seem cutting edge compared to the activities that the students partake in. For her midterm, Deanna is required to give an oral presentation to her class, a very unlikely experience in a large lecture hall to a class of 100 or more. Also, a tweet by one of the sorority sisters about Christina Aguilera coming to a party draws hundreds of students to the house, despite the artist not even hitting the Billboard charts since 2013.
Although these minor problems don’t harm the storyline, two crucial facts about the modern college life are left out, leaving the movie without any cultural relevance or importance. First off, despite Deanna’s never-ending efforts to study, there are minimal-to-no scenes of any of the other girls studying, and most of their activities revolve around an unrealistic, wild college lifestyle of weeknight parties and heavy binge drinking. Although these customs are a reality for some, this college experience is greatly a thing of the past. Today more than ever, many students focus tirelessly on their academics and are unable to go out and party every weeknight.
But most importantly, the movie leaves out the social activism that often takes place on today’s campuses. Although the movie is a light-hearted comedy, director Ben Falcone’s picture misses great opportunities to create situational comedy between a middle-aged homely Deanna and a liberal student activist. Because of this, the movie provides little social relevance to today and little relatability to the audience.
Despite these holes, Falcone and McCarthy’s flick provides some good laughs, as well as a decent storyline. The plot could have easily become an hour and a half long snoozefest of a mother trying to repair her relationship with her daughter. Instead, Falcone and McCarthy, the co-writers of the movie, take a more realistic approach and provide Deanna and Maddie with a healthy, supportive relationship. Although there are many holes, the film serves its purpose if you are able to look past its inaccuracies.