The trashy frat house machismo of Animal House wasn’t my cup of tea in 1978 and, typical of John Landis‘ work, its excesses have dated. With Melissa McCarthy and hubby Ben Falcone co-writing and producing Life of the Party, I wasn’t expecting anything along the zany lines of the National Lampoon boys, but rather something akin to Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, done via McCarthy’s typical cutsey dumb girl humor. Although McCarthy’s on-the-sleeve screen persona is not one I cozy up to, she was amiable enough in pleasantries such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters (all directed by Paul Feig).
We’ll get back to that. Having a long day off (both a school break and a work break), I opted for a double-feature picture show. The first feature, Avengers: Infinity War, was essentially a 21st century update of Animal House, with the boys spinning their tires in school parking lots replaced with super dupers. Essentially, though, both of those movies are tailored for secular camo-wearing bucks. I’ve never quite understood extreme virile conservatism divorced from religion. Don’t the two kind of go hand-in-hand? But then, Avengers does feature an overload of costumed deities who practically all get slaughtered by a big guy with an even bigger chin. I suppose it gives fans of the funny paper bibles what they want: two-dimensional gods who die horribly. It’s not so much a movie as a collection of video game levels. All the super dudes and super gals (too many to name) are like walk-on figures who go through multiple battles before getting wasted and replaced by the next set of supers whose powers are interchangeable and vague.
It’s so damned deafening and foul, made all the more so by “Game of Thrones”-fed audience members who acted like a rabid tribe of simians, a-gruntin’ and a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ at each explosion. The atmosphere reminded me of a news article I had just read online with hundreds of commenters rooting for the death of John McCain because he dared to oppose torture (after being tortured) and he stood up to Lord Thanos, er, Trump. Yes, there is a political current coursing throughout Avengers. It’s the politics of monochromatic deathlust, and the bloodbath is only alleviated by ingratiating macho jokiness. Then back to more carnage for 160 endless minutes.
Of course, it’s going to make a trillion dollars and in many quarters this pedestrian mess is preposterously being hailed as something on the scale of Empire Strikes Back. If it really matters, it’s about these infinity stones, and the fate of the universe, and Tolkien-like sacrifice and… it doesn’t matter one bit. Undoubtedly, the various action figures will rise again so fans can be rest assured that there will be more. However, there was an actual death permeating the entire experience; the repugnant death of the greatest art form birthed in the 20th century.
After Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party, all made with Falcone, McCarthy would be wise to work solely with Paul Feig. Her collaborations with husband are comparatively bland, never more so than here. Translation: Life of the Party is a crashing bore, which is the kiss of death for a comedy—especially one that features a star whose reputation was built on pratfalls and mugging. Almost as bad as the direction, the script, like Avengers, is utterly pedestrian non-writing, with the only surprise being how lifeless this party is. While it wasn’t soulless in the way Avengers was, Life of the Party could have used the slobishness of a John Belushi, or the madcap salty pathos of a Dangerfield. Normally, for all her obviousness, McCarthy at least delivers something in between the two; but here, she takes the worst route of all: toning down her antics, thus zapping away any personality.
The ho-hum plot is a sputtering series of muddled vignettes. After her jerk hubby has left her for another woman, McCarthy enrolls in college to study archeology. Naturally, it’s the same school her daughter (Molly Gordon) goes to. No prizes will be awarded for guessing what comes next in this listless remake of Back to School. Yes, fish-outta-water, dejected McCarthy plays mom to all the students, embarrasses her daughter, hooks up with a young dumb stud, becomes a favorite of all, and everything turns out OK for those on the screen (not so much for us).
Surprisingly, McCarthy is upstaged by co-stars Maya Rudolph, Heidi Gardner, and Gillian Jacobs. While The Avengers was a bodiless set of redneck testicles, Life of the Party is spayed suburbia. The only mercy afforded was in its comparative brevity. Also, the audience was less overbearing, but then over half the seats were empty—probably not a good sign for the producers and star.
Nor is this a good sign for my upcoming summer slate. Both Avengers and Life are DOA. At this rate, perhaps 366 readers can chip in and gofundme for a couple of packs of smokes and a very large can of sugar-free Rock Star. I think I’m going to need them.
2 thoughts on “ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: LIFE OF THE PARTY, WITH BONUS AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)”
I went to see “Avengers: Infinity War” a few days ago. I didn’t think it was particularly good but I liked it more than you (spectacle is the only thing these Marvel superhero films are good for, and this delivered the requisite jokes and fights). The characters do all have clearly defined powers and abilities, but this is a case where the film is relying on the viewer to have knowledge which is not contained in this film.
Anyway, the reason I write is that I also had problems with a couple of teenagers who sat in the front row and started whooping and calling out commentary as soon as the film started like they were at a wrestling match (which I suppose this is the filmic equivalent of in a way). They ignored me when I asked them to be quiet from a few rows behind them so I had to get out of my seat and walk right up to them to threaten to have them removed from the cinema.
Alfred, I honestly don’t know whether to love or hate you. You write an article where you come across as King of the Douchebags and I’m ready to write you off. Then you turn around and give us something as glorious as calling “Infinity War” “a bodiless set of redneck testicles” and I seriously want to buy you a pony.