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Melissa McCarthy’s ‘Life of the Party’ earns a failing grade

Middle-aged Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) fits right in with her sorority sisters when she returns to college after her husband dumps her in “Life of the Party.”
Middle-aged Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) fits right in with her sorority sisters when she returns to college after her husband dumps her in “Life of the Party.” Warner Bros. Pictures

Melissa McCarthy is a force of comedy nature when she takes on acting roles that push her into playing an interesting character. Check out her work in “The Heat” for one of the best examples of how good she can be with the right role.

Take a look at “Life of the Party” to see how bad she can be when the role is uninspired, uninteresting and underwhelming.

A trip to take her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), back to college goes sour for Deanna (McCarthy) as she’s abruptly told by her husband, Dan (Matt Walsh), that he wants a divorce. He has fallen in love with Marcie (Julie Bowen), a superficial real estate agent. Deanna’s response is to join her daughter at college to finish the degree she never got because she dropped out to support her husband.

Maddie’s initial terror is calmed when Deanna becomes the Big Mom on Campus. Mother and daughter deal with classes and sex lives so smoothly, all they have to do is make it to graduation and all will be right with the world.

McCarthy must have gone shopping at the film stereotype thrift store to find the character. The middle-aged woman who doesn’t know how to dress, is overly enthusiastic about school spirit and shows a brave face when it comes to her husband has been used countless times in TV shows and film.

The fact that Deanna is so likable even when she’s too zealous for those around her eliminates any tension. There are a few attempts to strike dramatic sparks with Jessie (Debby Ryan), who rules the campus with nasty sarcasm. But the effort falls flat because the campus already sides with Deanna, so there is no real power play.

“Life of the Party” was directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also co-wrote the script with McCarthy. As with their previous collaborations, “Tammy” and “The Boss,” there’s no outside voice to point out when the material and direction are languishing just below a cable TV comedy.

“Life of the Party” isn’t a complete magna cum blunder. Gillian Jacobs brings energy and fun to her performance as Helen, a fellow student who spent years in a coma.

Equally as funny is Kansas City native Heidi Gardner as Deanna’s creepy roommate, Leonor. This is the most interesting character to hit a college campus since D-Day (Bruce McGill) rolled into Faber College for “Animal House.” “Life of the Party” would have had way more life focusing on Gardner’s character.

A couple of characters can’t make up for the way “Life of the Party” comes across so lifelessly. Recycled jokes, an overworked plot idea and a by-the-numbers performance by McCarthy earn “Life of the Party” a failing grade.

‘Life of the Party’

Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content.

Time: 1:45.

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