Movie review: Can Melissa McCarthy make a good movie anymore? 'Life of the Party' argues no

When Melissa McCarthy, as the newly divorced, 40-something mom Deanna in "Life of the Party," decides to re-enroll in college, my seatmate at a recent screening turned to me with a question: "What the heck is she going to do with a degree in archaeology?"

By Michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post - Updated: May 11, 2018 at 6:47 am • Published: May 11, 2018 0
photo - This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Melissa McCarthy, center, in a scene from the comedy "Life of the Party," in theaters on May 11. (Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Melissa McCarthy, center, in a scene from the comedy "Life of the Party," in theaters on May 11. (Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

When Melissa McCarthy, as the newly divorced, 40-something mom Deanna in "Life of the Party," decides to re-enroll in college, my seatmate at a recent screening turned to me with a question: "What the heck is she going to do with a degree in archaeology?"

But I'm troubled by a deeper, more existential mystery: Why can't McCarthy make a decent movie?

Since her 2011 breakout performance in "Bridesmaids" as the loopy Megan, the actress has starred in a string of poorly reviewed duds, including "Tammy" and "The Boss" - movies that, like this one, McCarthy co-wrote and produced with her husband, Ben Falcone. Falcone, who also directed all three, likes to give himself small, mildly amusing parts. Here, he's a sensitive Uber driver who lends Deanna an ear after her caddish husband (Matt Walsh) leaves her for another woman (Julie Bowen), precipitating the film's action.

McCarthy's troubled track record has some exceptions. "Spy," the 2015 film in which she portrayed a nebbishy, deskbound CIA bureaucrat who goes undercover as a field operative, was surprisingly entertaining. Yet despite occasional flashes of comic genius over the years, McCarthy hasn't consistently carried a major motion picture. More accurately, the movies she has chosen to make don't live up to her considerable abilities.

As evidence, "Life of the Party" is a largely laugh-free exercise in cliche, in which we watch a middle-aged woman, clad in ugly sweatshirts and mom glasses, try to get her groove back as a student, 23 years after dropping out of school to raise a kid. Most of the comedy, which milks yuks from a tired, generational fish-out-of-water shtick, comes from seeing Deanna interact with embarrassed daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) and the sorority sisters at the school they all attend.

Bizarrely, Deanna's depressive, goth-y roommate is played by "SNL's" Heidi Gardner, who, at 34, seems way too old to pass for an undergrad, even an especially mopey one. Gillian Jacobs, 35, also appears as a student, but at least her character is said to have been in a coma for eight years.

After sitting through this film, it's a feeling I share.

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