The pitch for “Life of the Party” doesn’t exactly require a lot of complex thought. It’s basically – What if Melissa McCarthy went “Back to School“!? Wouldn’t that be a hoot? After all, she’s already gone on the mother of all road trips (“Tammy“), been an amateur spy (“Spy“), and played a self-made gazillionaire who becomes a better person by helping her friend’s child’s scout troop be ace entrepreneurs (“The Boss“), so what more is there to do? Thus I assume Melissa and her director husband, Ben Falcone, scratched their heads for exactly two seconds for the next route to take – and the result is that we get Melissa playing a middle-aged housewife who drops off her daughter (Molly Gordon) at college along with her husband (Stephen Root). Just as we’re thinking Molly looks a little long in the tooth to be a freshman (even by movie standards), we learn that she’s a senior. (Whew – dodged that credibility bullet.)
As for Stephen, we know from the second he opens his mouth that he’s a dick because he reminds Melissa that technically she never graduated, so it’s his alma mater, not hers – you see, Melissa dropped out when she became pregnant with Molly during her senior year. Quickly he cements this impression because the moment Molly disappears into her mansion cum sorority house, he informs Melissa that a) he’s been seeing a Realtor – Julie Bowen, b) he’s selling the house because it’s in his name, and c) he likes to kick puppies when no one is looking. Actually, c) is that he’s not taking her on her long-awaited trip abroad, but you get the picture. Even with ample consolation from her best friend (Maya Rudolph) and a liquored up racquet ball session, Melissa is bummed.
However, her bummed out period lasts about three scenes, and then Melissa gets a brainstorm – she’ll enroll in college to finish her degree, as she’s just one semester’s credits away from getting that sheepskin. Molly isn’t exactly thrilled to have her mom on campus – even though they’re in different houses, but her friends welcome their new classmate/den mother with open arms. Soon “Dee-Rock” ditches her specs, lets her hair down literally and becomes – the life of the party! She quickly starts impressing her archaeology professor (Chris Parnell) who is delighted to have a student who laughs at his corny puns. She also catches the eye of a guy much younger (Luke Benward) with whom she becomes smitten (it’s mutual) at a party. Meanwhile Stephen Root gets his ear pierced and quickly things escalate to the point where he and Gillian are tying the knot. And though Melissa is a force of nature on campus, lecturing her quasi-sorority sisters on girl-power and self-esteem, she still has a few things to learn herself.
In “Back to School,” there’s a scene where Rodney meets up with his son and his best friend who are buying books and supplies – he helpfully clears out the jam-packed store by announcing that Bruce Springsteen is outside. “Life of the Party,” tops this by having a plot point center around a non-existent visit by Christina Aguilera, or so that’s what everyone believes. In this case, fibbing is rewarded, just another mildly mixed message this movie sends, but the jokes are so relentlessly and cheerfully lobbed at the viewer that in the end, it’s beside the point. As for the viewer who might be doing math to gauge the extent that Melissa is robbing the cradle, there’s her father who, after listening to Luke’s impassioned speech as to how much he cares for her, intones mirthlessly: “Son, I have a gun.”