Life of the Party
At the Cinemark
Every college graduation has a few gray hairs under the mortar boards. Education is richer and deeper when the student body is diverse in all ways – race, gender, class and age.
I’ve been blessed to teach a number of older-than-average students – Carolyn and Susan, to name a couple special ones from my past, and Nona more recently. The downside, of course, is that they aren’t afraid to question authority. They aren’t easily fooled, either. Professors beware: It’s not their first rodeo.
I’ve also watched such a back-to-school journey first-hand.
At age 66 my mom Betty Brooks decided it was time to go to college for the first time. At 71 she earned her AA from Shoreline Community College in Seattle. Then at 76 she walked across the stage in Husky Stadium to receive her BA from the University of Washington.
A quite jubilant party followed, with all family members accounted for and a life-size Betty Boop poster greeting guests. Mom laid plans to add a Masters, but the U Dub, in all its wisdom, denied her application. She then set her sights on driving to Bellingham twice a week to enter the Western Washington’s MA program.
She ran out time before that dream came true. Remarkable mom, indeed – never one to say “I can’t” or “It’s too late.” I remember her spirit and love every Mother’s Day.
All of which brings us to “Life of the Party,” the latest film to send an older-than-average student to college.
In short, 40-something divorcee Deanna does indeed earn her long-delayed diploma, but the film about her journey gets low marks from me and virtually every other critic on the planet/campus.
Even a charming performance from Melissa McCarthy can’t breathe life into this uninspired tale of a mom who enrolls at her daughter’s college so they can both complete their final year of college together. First-time around Mom was pregnant with the daughter and dropped out after three years.
So, both are senior classmates at fictional Decatur University, filmed somewhere in Georgia.
For starters, I have my doubts whether the screenwriters have spent much time on contemporary college campuses. The dialogue feels like a clueless guess at what college kids might be saying and how they might be acting these days.
The “villains” include a couple mean girls who insult the older student the day she arrives. They make fun of her sweater and her breasts for starters – and it goes downhill from there.
Mom joins a sorority, of course, and suffers through initiation that includes a paddle to the rear.
At first Dee is an old fish in a pond of young guppies and yuppies. Eventually, of course, she’ll win over the hearts of the snobs and sisters. The ending must be graduation day, of course, which is fitting in this season of diplomas.
Along the way, mom will sleep with a cute college guy – and even have sex in the stacks (amidst library books). She’ll also get drunk chugging shots and get high eating chocolate laced with marijuana.
The subplots included other older couples having sex in odd places – and the destruction of the rebound wedding or her ex-husband.
Such a tired series of scenes wastes considerable potential for another memorable Melissa comedy.
We’ve taken too long to chat about this bad movie.
Let’s finish with a reminder that going back to college can be fun – in life and at the movies.
John Belushi’s “Animal House” is a wonderful romp, as is Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School.” Will Ferrell’s “Old School” has a few redeemable moments.
One of my favorite back-to-college films is “Educating Rita” with Julie Walters playing a blue-collar lady who goes to college and is taught by an alcoholic prof, Michael Caine. Other movies that make many lists of top comedies about college include “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Legally Blonde.” Pixar’s “Monsters University” was enjoyable, too. Lots of moviegoers enjoyed “Pitch Perfect” more than I did.
In short, a college campus is a ripe setting for comedy, but everything depends on astute writing that is in touch with college life.
“Life of the Party” is laughably out of touch with 21st century campus life.