A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Life of the Party is a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy as a newly divorced woman who joins her daughter at college to finish her undergraduate degree. While not as raunchy as movies like Blockers, Bad Moms, or even Bridesmaids, the movie does explore a May-December romance (McCarthy's character hooks up with an eager frat boy who's half her age). It also has references to sex, and there's a lot of frat-party drinking, as well as drug use (McCarthy and a bunch of sorority sisters accidentally binge on marijuana-infused chocolate). The language is occasionally strong ("s--t," "a--hole," etc.), but it's not pervasive. Expect plenty of physical comedy (as per usual for McCarthy), as well as a bunch of pop-culture references and an extended '80s-themed party sequence.
What's the story?
LIFE OF THE PARTY stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, a newly divorced woman who returns to college to finally finish her bachelor's degree. Moments after Deanna and her husband, Dan (Matt Walsh), drop off their only daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), at her sorority house at Decatur University for her senior year, Dan announces that he's in love with another woman and wants out of their marriage. Devastated, Deanna decides that she needs to return to Decatur to complete her archaeology studies; the first time around she dropped out after getting pregnant. So Deanna moves on to campus and hangs out with Maddie, who's initially hesitant but grows to love having her mom around all the time. Maddie's sorority sisters also love Deanna, who mothers them all. She even gets involved in a May-December romance with a handsome frat guy named Jack (Luke Benward).
Is it any good?
McCarthy is an undeniably talented comedian, but this formulaic college comedy collaboration with her writer-director husband Ben Falcone falls short of her potential. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, mostly courtesy of McCarthy's chemistry with on-screen best friend Christine (Maya Rudolph). Their scenes together are natural and funny, the two actresses appearing to ad-lib. Saturday Night Live cast member Heidi Gardner is also amusing as Deanna's intimidating roommate. But there's a lot that either falls flat or comes off as a copycat of so many other movies. For example, the age of Gillian Jacobs' character, Helen, is explained away as the result of an eight-year-long coma. The resulting "coma girl" jokes are neither funny nor necessary when there are plenty of older college students who haven't experienced severe brain injuries.
Viewers of a certain age will remember the classic Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School, a pivotal '80s comedy about a rags-to-riches millionaire who returns to college to bond with his son. Perhaps it's a sign of age and nostalgia, but Life of the Party is far less funny or memorable than that comedy. For one, the only class we see Deanna attend is an archaeology class taught by her punny former classmate-turned-academic, played by Chris Parnell. And while Dangerfield's romance was with an age-appropriate professor (Sally Kellerman), here Deanna robs the cradle and sleeps (repeatedly) with a college-aged guy her daughter's age. It would've felt more true had the frat guy been a one-night stand and the true love interest be Parnell's character. As it is, it's sweet that McCarthy and Falcone enjoy working together, but they have yet to make a movie as good as their individual talents.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Deanna is a good role model in Life of the Party. What character strengths does she display? What makes her so beloved not only by her daughter but also by most of the sorority?
Have you seen other movies about adults returning to college or high school? What do you think makes it such an appealing theme/premise?
Does the movie reinforce stereotypes about the Greek system and sororities or undermine them? How are they depicted in the movie?
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