Movie Reviews: 'Life of the Party' relies on the relentless likability of Melissa McCarthy
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Molly Gordon, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Life of the Party," in theaters on May 11. (Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Published Friday, May 11, 2018 6:00AM EDT
LIFE OF THE PARTY: 2 ½ STARS
An aggressive but damaged comedic persona goes back to school. It worked well when Rodney Dangerfield did it in 1986 but will it work as well a second time? Melissa McCarthy hopes to find out with this week’s release of “Life of the Party.”
The “Bridesmaid” star plays enthusiastic domestic engineer Deanna, devoted wife of Dan (Matt Walsh), mother of senior year university student Maddie (Molly Gordon). When Dan unexpectedly dumps her, abruptly ending their twenty-three year marriage, she takes control of her destiny. “What am I going to do?” she asks. “Take spin classes? Oh no. I don’t want to start a blog.” Instead of any of that it’s back to school for Deanna for the first time since Counting Crows topped the charts.
Enrolled at the same university as her daughter, Deanna blossoms. Embracing life around the quad she discovers everything she missed during her marriage. Her journey of self-discovery includes hanging out with Maddie’s friends and getting friendly with the campus frat boys.
Like “Back to School,” “Life of the Party” isn’t a particularly good movie. The first half is brutal, with so few laughs its hard to even label it a comedy. The second half is much better but still, scenes end when it feels like they are just getting started or at least like there is one better joke to come.
When it really goes for laughs between beyond Seanna’s sentimentality, self-help platitudes and momisms, however, it earns them. A mediation scene is laugh-out-loud, the relationships gel and Maya Rudolph needs to make the jump from supporting roles to the title star.
Mostly though, the film features the relentless likability of Melissa McCarthy. I’m not sure she elevates the material (which she co-wrote with her director husband Ben Falcone) but she brings some heart to it and in this story of a mother and daughter, that’s enough.
THE SEAGULL: 4 STARS
These days period piece don’t often burn up the box office but a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s petticoated romance “The Seagull” has a shot. With “Downton Abbey” a long distant memory and the heat surrounding a post-“Lady Bird” Saoirse Ronan, the 1886 could find an audience in the era of Kardashianana.
Ronan and Annette Bening headline a talented to cast to breathe life into the 132 year-old twisty-turny tale of desire to vivid life.
Love is in the air.
Bening is past-her-prime actress Irina Arkadina. An aristocrat, she’s part of Russian intelligentsia and artistic elite and is judgmental of anyone who isn’t. Including her playwright son Konstantin (Billy Howle), whose avant-garde work she openly criticizes. Ignoring her son’s crush on free-spirited local actress Nina (Ronan), Irina introduces a famous writer, Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll) to the impressionable young woman. Complicating the love rhombus are estate manager’s daughter Masha’s (Elisabeth Moss) crush on Konstantin and Irina’s jealousy at the amorous attention Boris showers on Nina.
Director Michael Mayer avoids the stodginess of previous film adaptations, casting actors with the chops to embrace Chekhov’s dialogue but bring it to life, mining the pathos and the often-neglected humour.
Bening is wonderfully cast, bringing a haughtiness to Irina that covers a wide vulnerable streak. As Nina, the star struck actress, Ronan nails the transformation from wide-eyed ingénue to world-weary with ease but it is two supporting performances that threaten to steal the show from the leads.
As Irina's brother Pjotr Sorin, Brian Dennehy wraps his tongue around Chekhov’s words in a way that sounds like music to the ears.
I suspect that it will be Elisabeth Moss’s Masha people will remember after the final credits roll. Melodramatic and miserable, Masha is tormented by her unrequited feelings for Konstantin and unfulfilled dreams. Moss plays her like a nineteenth century goth, draped in black. “I’m in mourning for my life,” she says. It is tremendous stuff, buoyed by Masha’s use of humour as a protective sword for her exposed feelings. “A lot of women drink,” she says, “just not as openly as I do.”
“The Seagull” doesn’t feel like a filmed version of a stage play. Mayer keeps the camera in constant motion, bringing an up-close-and-personal feel to the story of entangled attractions.
REVENGE: 3 STARS
There blood, there’s bloody and then there’s the river of cinematic plasma that flows through the aptly named “Revenge” from first time French writer-director Coralie Fargeat. Gory and uncompromising, this is a violent vision for those with a love of Grand Guignol cat-and-mouse games and a strong stomach.
Set in a remote, desert bound luxury villa, “Revenge” is the unsettling story of three wealthy men, the arrogant Richard (Kevin Janssens) and pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede) and one woman, Jen (Matilda Lutz). Jen is Richard’s mistress, seduced by his good looks and the perks his money offers, i.e. cocaine and private helicopters. The men are there for the good times and an annual hunting trip.
What begins as a glamorous, sexy getaway turns foul when Stan sexually assaults Jen. When she tearfully tells Richard what happened he tells her to brush it off, not to worry about it. When she threatens to tell his wife about their affair unless he does something about Stan he turns nasty. And so does the movie. Chased out into the desert, Jen is pushed over a cliff, impaled on a sharp branch and left for dead.
Suffice to say that will not be the last bloodshed offered up in “Revenge’s” operatic tale of vengeance. With self-determination, a beer can and some self-surgery Jen survives with a new lease on life and vengeance in her heart.
“Revenge” is not a subtle movie. It is an exploitation flick that builds tension by taking its time between scenes of extremely graphic violence. Close-ups of fire ants swarming a rotted apple and Dimitri’s slo mo marshmallow mastication are add to the film’s disquieting atmosphere.
Clearly Fargeat has passed her days studying not only grindhouse gore but Michelangelo Antonioni films as well. The result is a blood-splattered art film that revels in its baseness.
As the title suggests “Revenge” is all about revenge but unlike most sex vengeance films this one is filtered through a female perspective. It is still hard to take but the transition from suffering to strength sets it apart from usual exploitation fare.