Blu-ray Review: Life of the Party

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Life of the Party, now available on Blu-ray via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, recasts Melissa McCarthy in what is essentially Rodney Dangerfield's role from Back to School. The reason this new film works as well as it does, however, is that co-screenwriters McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (also director) maintain a totally different tone than the 1986 Dangerfield classic. Though both larger-than-life comedic actors, Dangerfield and McCarthy present quite different personas. As middle-aged, recently-divorced Deanna, who returns to college to fulfill a lifelong goal of earning a degree, McCarthy is winningly sweet and warm.

Life of the Party, in fact, is downright mild when compared to McCarthy and Falcone's previous collaborations Tammy and The Boss. Both of those films had hilarious moments, but McCarthy veered too close into caricature. Those earlier films felt like over-extended sketches. In Life of the Party, McCarthy makes Deanna a fully-formed (and more sympathetic) character. While Deanna's daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) is initially mortified that her own mom will be joining her at Decatur Univerity, it's not hard to see why she eventually gets used to to the idea. As the title suggest, Deanna—dubbed Dee Rock by Maddie's sorority sisters—is a lot of fun to be around.

As we see Deanna embrace college life, re-enter the dating world (with some surprising results that are best left discovered by the viewer), and essentially rediscover a sense of purpose after her loser husband Dan (Matt Walsh) so coldly casts her aside, Life coasts along effortlessly on its own inoffensiveness. And McCarthy gets some strong assists from a worthy supporting cast that includes Gillian Jacobs (as a fellow older student), Chris Parnell (as a pun-obsessed archaeology professor), and current SNL cast member Heidi Garner (as Deanna's shut-in dorm mate). Maya Rudolph, on the other hand, overplays as Deanna's grating best friend.

Some ill-advised "revenge against the ex" plot mechanics threaten to ruin the sympathetic tone (however much heartless Dan may have had it coming). Also, a too-easy, feelgood climax (involving a cameo from a pop superstar) holds Life back from ever even approaching classic comedy status. But McCarthy fans will likely be charmed as the film provides consistent laughs.

Warner's Blu-ray edition has a crazy-long 46-minute reel of deleted scenes—and speaking of crazy, there's no index to chose specific scenes. What were they thinking? I skipped it in favor of two shorter "Line-o-Rama" montages and a gag reel. There might be comic gold hidden among those deleted scenes, but I don't have 46 minutes to wade through it. ''80s Party" and "Mom Sandwich" are a couple of innocuous featurettes that round out the supplements.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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