Do laundry. Clean the fish tank. Re-grout the bathroom. What do these things have in common? They are much better ways to spend your time than sitting through Melissa McCarthy's uninspired and forced "Life of the Party."
The film represents the third time the comedian has teamed up with her writer/director husband Ben Falcone — they previously did "The Boss" and "Tammy" — but not only is the new one the weakest, it also may raise questions about the continued viability of McCarthy starring in these solo films.
McCarthy plays a frumpy housewife in middle age who returns to college alongside her daughter after her husband of 23 years dumps her. Young people may not recognize the premise has been swiped from 1986's "Back to School" with Rodney Dangerfield but every other cliche of college movies is present in "Life of the Party ."
Our frumpy heroine in a bedazzled sweater must at some point get a sexy makeover, right? Oh, yes. She must attend drunken keggers and loosen up? You guessed it. She accidentally ingests pot? Sure. A college stud suddenly gets turned on by this older woman? Naturally. Mean, superhot girls become her sarcastic bullies? Yawn.
Is there a themed frat party where our heroine, to the delight of many, owns the dance floor? Snooze. Must there be a girl-on-girl fight scene? Please. A secret initiation into a sorority, complete with spanking? Naturally. Can there be a climactic party-and-fundraiser in which everything rides on the empty promise of a celebrity showing up? And then the celebrity DOES show up? Wait, is anyone still watching this dreck?
McCarthy's welcome manic, anarchic energy is mostly missing from "Life of the Party" and few of her co-stars offer much. Gillian Jacobs as a sorority sister who was in a coma for eight years (wait, what?) and Julie Bowen as McCarthy's romantic rival are both wasted. The only person rising above the flat material is Maya Rudolph, who is always terrific.
The script is lackluster, relying mostly on puns, boob or groin jokes. When the smitten college stud asks our heroine to back-pack across Europe with him, she replies: "I need luggage with wheels." When McCarthy's character is in the college gift shop and spies a pair of small footballs for sale, she wonders what they're for. "I guess I'll find tiny football players," she muses.
The film attempts to reach for a female empowerment message, but only half-heartedly. McCarthy's character, in a pep talk, tries to encourage her sorority sisters to own their personal strengths, but often that just means she admires one's long legs or another's perk posterior. "Everybody's good," she says, flailing. Worse, her sorority sisters come across as pretty underwhelming. One is as dumb as a plank — "You made lemons out of lemonade!" — and another can't do simple math.
More troubling is imagining if the gender roles were reversed. Would we really cheer a middle-aged divorced man having public sex in the library stacks with a girl more than half his age? Would we tolerate a group of vengeful, drug-addled men crashing a wedding and destroying the banquet of an ex-wife?
Wandering aimlessly in the well-worn corridors of 1980s puerile frat flicks, "Life of the Party" wobbles to a predictable end and then sort of finishes without a bang. One line from it really resonated.
"What am I doing here," McCarthy's character asks. "I'm lying to these kids and taking their money." Precisely, Ms. McCarthy, precisely.
"Life of the Party," a New Line Cinema release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sexual material, drug content and partying." Running time: 105 minutes. One star out of four.