Even if her subsequent comedy turns in movies haven’t often reached — or even neared — the same heights as her seismic, Oscar-nominated turn in “Bridesmaids,” it’s hard not to root for Melissa McCarthy.
She’s such an unlikely big-screen star, it’s a treat in itself to see her keep getting opportunities … some of which she makes for herself by generating her own projects in tandem with her writer-producer-director husband Ben Falcone. One of those is her latest picture, “Life of the Party,” which makes her sort of a female Rodney Dangerfield as she also goes back to school.
Her husband (Matt Walsh) announces he’s leaving her (for “Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen), and that prompts her to go back and finish pursuing the degree she left behind 20 years earlier – at the same school where her daughter (Molly Gordon) happens to be a student now.
Yes, the premise is pretty similar to Dangerfield’s “Back to School” … and where that project was contoured to his comedic persona, McCarthy does the same for herself with “Life of the Party.” It’s bawdy, especially when it comes to her character’s encounters with a younger man (Luke Benward), but never so much that you lose sympathy for her.
The script generously builds in some very solid material for other comedic performers, too, notably Maya Rudolph and “Community” alum Gillian Jacobs. Still, McCarthy is the selling point here, and she delivers for the most part.
She has lived between comedy worlds – the raunchier kind, as in (of course) “Bridesmaids,” and the more genteel type, as was required of her for television’s “Mike & Molly” (and, for that matter, “Gilmore Girls”). Bridging those aspects is even more a consideration when you’re the star of a movie, expected to bring in audiences with your “brand.”
For McCarthy, that’s essentially two brands, and she and her collaborators haven’t always been entirely successful in achieving that merging. For its edgier moments, “Life of the Party” leans much more toward the “sweet” side where McCarthy is concerned … and that’s fine, as long as the “Bridesmaids”-educated clientele for her movie work accepts that.
“Life of the Party” is hardly a party that you never want to never end, but as it stands, it makes Melissa McCarthy an agreeable-enough guest.