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Life of the Party

Melissa McCarthy is one of the most gifted physical comedians of our time, and equally adept at her own lethal verbal play.

After a slow start, her gifts find some hilarious outlet in the new comedy LIFE OF THE PARTY.

I approached the sneak preview last night thinking that this was McCarthy's update of Rodney Dangerfield's best film "Back to School", but its both a lot less & a lot more than that.

Writing the film with her husband and Director Ben Falcone, they create characters that are FAR less predictable than you might imagine.

As the film opens Deanna is dropping her daughter Maddie (an exceptional Molly Gordon) off at college for her senior year. Deanna and her husband Dan (Veep's Matt Walsh as deadpan as ever) aren't even out the driveway when Dan breaks the news that he wants out of the marriage and has fallen in love with real estate guru Marcie ("Modern Family"s Julie Bowen playing mean and loving it).

Deanna decides to head back to school to finish her archeology degree at her daughter's school, setting up what you think will be a very predictable arc.

While it occasionally falls for the easy laugh, I was really surprised that the story was very unpredictable, almost never went where I thought it was going and mixed some nice family moments in with some very big laughs.

Maya Rudolph is fantastic as Deanna's best friend Christine. Their scene in the divorce intermediary's office with Deanna's ex is laugh out loud funny for five solid minutes.

There are mean girls at school ready to pounce on Deanna and a college hunk named Jack who's smitten with Deanna from the moment they meet. McCarthy and Luke Benward as Jack go places with that storyline that you'll never see coming, but will make you laugh a lot.

Gordon is excellent as Deanna's daughter. Their mother/daughter relationship is surprisingly real in the film. I kept waiting for the story to show Maddie getting outraged at her Mom and take every predictable plot direction, but their moments together are hilarious and very real.

The sorority girls aren't stereotypical either and Gillian Jacobs is a real standout as Helen, who spent 8 years in a coma and has turned that into online celebrity. Her comic delivery is flawless.

Stephen Root (Office Space, HBO's brilliant "Barry") delivers and Chris Parnell digs up every pun available as an archaeology professor. His reactions during her final are priceless.

Deanna's verbal presentation of that final is a classic too. She makes Albert Brooks flop sweat in "Broadcast News" look like a minor panic attack.

Critics and pessimistic audiences will hammer this movie within an inch of its life. Like Deanna, it's a little too sweet and heartfelt to truly be popular with the "in crowd", but it sure made me laugh a lot once it got going.

It's nice to see McCarthy and Falcone present Deanna to audiences as a woman who discovers just how strong she is. The fact that lesson is wrapped in this many big laughs is just a bonus.

McCarthy and a terrific cast bring it home for a B.

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