The Hippo


Jul 4, 2020








Life of the Party (PG-13)
A newly divorced woman fulfills her lifelong desire to finish her college degree in Life of the Party, an uneven but occasionally interesting comedy.
As Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) and husband Dan (Matt Walsh) drop their only daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college for her senior year Dan announces: that he wants a divorce, that he’s selling their house and that the real estate agent, Marcie (Julie Bowen), selling the house is also his girlfriend. Devastated, Deanna reflects on how she left college with only a year to go when she got pregnant and never finished school or pursued her own career. Now, with the marriage she gave so much to over, she decides to finish her degree at her alma mater, the same school Maddie is attending.
Though she puts in the occasional pop-by to her daughter’s sorority house, Deanna, improbably living in a campus dorm, actually spends most of her time studying in the library or in the dorm room haunted by her gothy roommate, Leonor (Heidi Gardner). Maddie’s sorority sisters — Helen (Gillian Jacobs), Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and Amanda (Adria Arjona) — like having Deanna around and seek to include her more in their lives. Deanna cooks lasagna, delivers pick-me-ups when the girls need reassurance and, after Maddie convinces her mom to lose the bedazzled sweaters and helmet perm, they even bring Deanna to parties. At one such party she meets Jack (Luke Benward), a twentysomething student who is quite taken with the probably early-40s Deanna. After a tryst with Jack, Deanna excitedly calls her best friend, Christine (Maya Rudolph), who gives her an attagirl for her adventure-filled new life.
And, hey, cheers to that, cheers to a middle-aged, non-supermodel lady getting to have a fun life reinvention with very little feeling bad about her neck (to paraphrase Nora Ephron) or trying to out-kitten the kittens, as Julia Roberts once put it. (“You can’t out-kitten the kittens,” Roberts said in an interview on Oprah for the movie Mona Lisa Smile, a movie where she appeared with a pack of younger actresses. This was sometime in the early aughts when Roberts was in her mid-30s and it has stuck with me as some great life advice.) Deanna isn’t trying to recapture her youth or compete with 20something girls. She presents herself as a woman, basically satisfied with being the age she is, trying to (to continue borrowing from Oprah) live her best life now, not relive the life she might have had.
And yet this movie is confusing. At some moments it is almost unbearably terrible. The humor can be hacky, overly reliant on very silly physical comedy and the visual gag of Deanna’s mom sweaters. 
The movie also doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with the relationship between Maddie and Deenna. Their scenes can feel very tell-not-show, very “in this scene Maddie fully supports her mother” and “in this scene Maddie is embarrassed” without a real sense of Maddie’s character or how she changes over the course of the movie. She feels emblematic of a kind of overall lack of depth for all the characters. They girls just accept Deanna, Jack just has the hots for her, gothy roommate is just gothy — there’s no real hint of an explanation or motivation behind any of it.
And yet, the movie, even in its terrible-ish moments, isn’t actually terrible. It does a lot of smart and even impressive things with the way the story plays out. Almost universally in a movie like this, the prize at the end of the movie would be a new man for Deanna and maybe some kind of comeuppance for Dan. That is not the direction the movie goes. Meeting a new guy is a story beat — a relatively minor one — but it’s not the goal. In her interactions with the sorority girls, her advice is never to get them to do things she didn’t do but to just be themselves and be proud and happy about who they are now. That might sound pat but the way this movie presents this idea is very unlike what you usually see.
Life of the Party is another project written by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone, who also directs. As with their previous outings, this movie has a lot of good ideas it doesn’t always seem to know how to pull together or how to focus to show McCarthy’s significant comic abilities at their finest. It is an example of creative growth, though — Life of the Party is better than The Boss, which was better than Tammy. And, as with those movies, there is something about McCarthy, her sensibility and her outlook (even her goofy love of the pratfall) that make me want to root for this movie. 
The movie also has some fun with Gillian Jacobs and Maya Rudolph, who is in her mid-40s and plays her character like she’s doing a Golden Girls reboot audition tape which is both weird and weirdly entertaining. 
I went from rooting for Life of the Party to just wanting it to end to sort of appreciating the movie in its final third. Where does that leave us, a C+?
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying. Directed by Ben Falcone and written by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, Life of the Party is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed by New Line Cinema. 

Breaking In
Film reviews by Amy Diaz


A mother must rescue her children from robbers in Breaking In, a stripped down thriller that seems crafted entirely for the purpose of showcasing Gabrielle Union’s ability to bad-ass.
Shaun (Union) is a mother of two — teenage Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger Glover (Seth Carr) — headed with the kids for the remote, multi-acre horse farm retreat of Shaun’s superwealthy but shady-ish father, who is killed in an intentional hit-and-run in the movie’s opening scenes. Shaun has planned to spend the weekend readying the home for sale, with her husband Justin (Jason George) remaining at work in the city. 
As Shaun, who was estranged from her father, walks around the house, she discovers all the automated controls and seemingly over-the-top security measures her father installed. The kids, of course, have some tech of their own, such as the drone-mounted camera that Glover is flying through the house. The footage from the drone is how Glover first sees one of the four men who have broken into the house. Sam (Levi Meaden), Duncan (Richard Cabral) and ringleader Eddie (Billy Burke) grab him and Jasmine and hold them at gunpoint inside while Shaun, who had been investigating an open garage door and some disconnected wiring, is attacked outside by Peter (Mark Furze).
Shaun sees her kids being held but can’t get to them because of the house’s shatter-proof windows and automatic locks. She manages to incapacitate Peter long enough to find out a bit of information about the reason the men have come to the house and then sets about trying to find a way to get to her children and get them out of the fortress-like house.
My explanation right there is almost more involved than the story itself. Something more accurate to the feel of this movie might be: fight fight fight, run run, hide, sneak to do this thing, hide, fight, run sneak, run, etc. There, that’s your movie. In between, there are a few conversations between Shaun and Eddie, each trying to figure out the abilities and motivations of the other.
There is very little to this movie. This isn’t a multi-course tasting menu. This is french fries, with salt, the end. You want fries? These are decent fries, but don’t go looking for cheese sauce or fried capers. You want Union running around being awesome? She is, here, running around being awesome, fighting dudes, hiding from dudes, outwitting dudes. This movie has no depth to it at all, but the quarter inch of surface is perfectly serviceable. Not excellent, not innovative or even all that exciting or memorable, but fine and even commendable for all the ways the movie isn’t exploitative and lets its strong female characters be strong. B-
Rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references and brief strong language, according to the MPAA. Directed by James McTeigue and written by Ryan Engle, Breaking In is an hour and 28 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Studios.

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