McCarthy is able to stir film’s flat bub­bles

The Star Late Edition - - TV GUIDE -

a lame story of sec­ond chances that be­comes a gushy love­fest. sob­bing re­ac­tion sug­gests how good she could be at drama.

Aban­doned, Deanna de­cides to fin­ish her de­gree. She turns up on cam­pus ex­cited and fully decked out in school para­pher­na­lia, from sweat­shirt to back­pack, traips­ing around like the ghost of col­lege past. She is clue­less – but for this first short stretch, the film does have a clue.

Mad­die (a very nat­u­ral Molly Gor­don), like any or­di­nary col­lege girl, is qui­etly hor­ri­fied at hav­ing her bub­bly mother liv­ing in a nearby dorm and drop­ping by her soror­ity with snacks. Mean girls in class are sar­cas­tic about Deanna’s wardrobe, mock­ing her to her face. One of Deanna’s new friends, Helen (Gillian Ja­cobs), sneak­ily snips off some of a mean girl’s hair. Helen, who was in a coma for eight years be­fore re­turn­ing to school, is the kind of quirky char­ac­ter the movie could have used more of.

Deanna her­self be­gins to see that she’s in­trud­ing on her daugh­ter’s life. There is an edgy hon­esty in these scenes of her rough land­ing, a sharp tone rem­i­nis­cent of some of McCarthy’s best movies.

Sure enough, in no time Life of the Party be­comes a gushy Deanna love­fest. She fits into col­lege, and the film is over­whelmed by clichés.

Mad­die’s soror­ity friends want to watch movies with Deanna and take her to their par­ties, uniron­i­cally. At one party – and there are way too many even for a pic with this ti­tle – Mad­die takes her into the ladies’ room, and in that quick trip re­moves her mother’s glasses, smooths out her frumpy curls and tosses away her em­broi­dered smock. Voila, Mom is now a wo­man in a black shirt who at­tracts and hooks up with a hot but sweet young guy. From then on, the film is a be­nign fairy tale of a moth­er­daugh­ter friend­ship from a mom’s point of view.

Deanna sleeps with the col­lege guy, but this is a care­ful, fam­ily-friendly PG-13 movie, so there is not a hint of a sex scene – just Deanna creep­ing out of his room the next morn­ing.

There is one hi­lar­i­ous scene set in a restau­rant, with a sur­prise twist that gives Deanna some un­in­ten­tional sweet re­venge on the wo­man her hus­band left her for (Julie Bowen). Ar­riv­ing late, that scene sets in re­lief just how long the movie has plod­ded along on the strength of McCarthy’s ap­peal.

There hasn’t been a sin­gle big laugh, although the film is clearly go­ing for them. Why else in­clude an 1980s-themed dance party with McCarthy in a span­gly Dy­nasty­wor­thy jump­suit with gi­ant gold epaulets, her hair as big as her shoul­der pads?

There is a quick cameo by Christina Aguil­era and a de­light­ful, dead­pan per­for­mance by Heidi Gard­ner ( SNL) in a small role as Deanna’s room­mate. As Deanna’s best off-cam­pus friend and con­tem­po­rary, Maya Ru­dolph puts a ter­rific spin on tired lines.

It’s too bad that comic masters like McCarthy and Ru­dolph had to do a res­cue job on their roles in this dis­ap­point­ing mud­dle of a film. –

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