Melissa McCarthy's still got it, even when she honestly kind of doesn't. One of the comedian's worst-reviewed and poorest-performing comedies, Life of the Party, shot up to #2 on HBO Max's most-watched movies in the U.S. yesterday, joining a bunch of DC Comics properties and hits like The Matrix and Inside Man in the top 10. The film was actually written by McCarthy with her husband, Ben Falcone, and directed by Falcone. It released in 2018, and while it made more than $60 million, that was still down quite a bit from The Boss, which she and Falcone had made together in 2016.
After being one of the most reliable performers at the box office for about a five-year stretch, McCarthy had a string of disappointments, including Life of the Party and the Brian Henson-directed The Happytime Murders right around the time of Life of the Party's release, giving casual viewers the sense that McCarthy was overexposed and trying to do too much, thus watering down the overall quality.
In Life of the Party, McCarthy plays Deanna, a woman whose husband tells her he wants a divorce on the drive home from dropping off their daughter at college. After talking with her parents about how her marriage derailed her professional ambitions, Deanna decides to re-enroll in college, and ends up going to the same school as her daughter. From there, with her ex-husband already planning a wedding to the woman he left her for, the story goes pretty much where you would expect, with much of the comedy coming from the generation gap and resulting culture clash between Deanna and her new school friends. Along the way, they visit a Christina Aquilera concert, trash her ex-husband's wedding, and Deanna establishes a closer relationship with her daughter and gets her degree.
For all its flaws -- the movie scored a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes -- Life of the Party did something that many McCarthy films of that era didn't do, which is give her a chance to play a more human character. With so many of her films leaning on physical comedy and the humor of McCarthy angrily yelling at people, the chance to play a more fully-rounded character who yells a lot, but also forms real relationships and gets hurt, must have been a nice change of pace for the actor.