Friday Female Spotlight: ‘Life of the Party’ Star Melissa McCarthy

This week’s column takes a look at Melissa McCarthy’s career and how she has helped spearhead a renaissance in female-driven comedies, including her latest Life of the Party.

McCarthy started her career as a stand-up comic but quickly found more of her footing as a member of The Groundlings, the sketch-comedy improvisation group in L.A. There, she worked with the likes of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, and as we know, the three found themselves launched into comedic stratosphere with their 2011 massive hit Bridesmaids – but more on that in a minute.

While Wiig and Rudolph went on to greatness on Saturday Night Live, McCarthy landed a plum role on the hit series Gilmore Girls, playing Sookie St. James, Lorelai Gilmore’s klutzy best friend and business partner. It was a great run for McCarthy and while it didn’t necessarily show all the fabulous comedic aspects to the actress, it still was a great showcase for her.

When Gilmore Girls ended, McCarthy did a stint on the short-lived Samantha Who? with Christina Applegate and then got her biggest TV role to date in 2010, headlining the sitcom Mike and Molly, with Billy Gardell. They played a couple who meet cute at an Overeaters’ Anonymous meeting and fall in love. Again, McCarthy was a strong comic lead, but we still didn’t have any idea what she was capable of.

Then came Bridesmaids – and suddenly the floodgates opened. As Megan, the soon-to-be sister-in-law to Maya Rudolph’s character, McCarthy simply slayed. Downplaying the looks and amping up the butch, along with adding an enormous amount of confidence and sexual prowess, McCarthy pretty much stole the show every time she was onscreen

There’s the time we meet her, telling Wiig’s Annie about the time she fell off a cruise ship, (“Yeah, ‘Oh shit.’ Took a hard, hard, violent fall. Kind of pinballed down. Hit a lot of railings, broke a lot of shit) to having a food-poisoned meltdown in a bridal shop (“It’s coming out of me like lava!”) to Megan’s perfect bachelorette party idea (“That, and I’ll just snowball on top of that, also Fight Club. Female fight club. We grease up, we pull in. Lillian doesn’t know, so it’s, “Surprise! We’re going to fight!” We beat the shit out of her. She’s not going to forget that.”)

The hilarious performance catapulted McCarthy’s movie career. While she stayed with Mike and Molly until its end after six seasons, she kept shining on the big screen with movies like The Heat with Sandra Bullock, Identity Thief with Jason Bateman – and one of her best, Spy, which should get a sequel considering what a huge hit it was in 2015. Even Ghostbusters is an enormous hoot, despite some of the naysayers who didn’t want to see a beloved comedy remade with women. Feh on them, I say. McCarthy, Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones had me in constant stitches.

She also has made movies with her husband Ben Falcone, who she met at The Groundlings. With Falcone as director, the two have honed some of McCarthy’s Groundlings personas for the big screen, like with Tammy and The Boss. Both comedies received lukewarm reception from critics but did well with audiences, as they showcased McCarthy’s talents. I personally love The Boss because when McCarthy plays brassy and bold, she sells it brilliantly. Seeing her get into a full-on brawl with cookie-selling rival Girl Scouts alone is worth it.

Now, Falcone and McCarthy give us their third collaboration, Life of the Party. The funny lady plays a mild-mannered housewife and mom named Deanna, who suddenly finds herself without purpose when her husband (Matt Walsh) leaves her for another woman (Julie Bowen). Deciding to take charge of her life, Deanna enrolls in her daughter’s college and basically becomes, you guessed it, the life of the party.

I haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, but plan to because, like I said, McCarthy makes me laugh. Period. Both esteemed WLE’s critics Scott Menzel and Ashley Menzel saw it, however, and loved it. Scott said the mostly female cast really had him in stitches (read his whole review here).

Gillian Jacobs, Heidi Gardner, Maya Rudolph, Jessie Ennis and Melissa McCarthy deliver their dialogue in such a way that you cannot help but laugh or at least smile whenever they are on-screen.

Ashley concurred (read her whole review here):

The female-dominated cast works so perfectly in the film. The characters are so real and so relatable which is rare to find in a film set in college. Melissa McCarthy plays the perfect awkward mom who is totally out of place in college. Heidi Gardner as her roommate is a highlight of the film. The interactions between Leonor and Deanna are so hysterical. Gillian Jacobs and Melissa McCarthy work really well to balance out each other’s very different type of comedy. While Melissa is great with loud, awkward, and sometimes very physical comedy, Gillian compliments her with awkward dry humor with a lot of moments relying on facial expressions. Melissa and Maya Rudolph have incredible chemistry together. As best friends, they provide some of the funniest moments in the entire film.

Here’s my main point: When it comes to hit movie comedies, Melissa McCarthy delivers. Studios are now relying on her to not only carry a movie but because of her name, have it open with big box office dollars. She and some of her female colleagues like Wiig, Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey are leading the charge with successful comedies and showing how it’s done, along with inspiring fresh female comic voices like Amy Schumer, McKinnon and even Mila Kunis, who lead the Bad Moms franchise with aplomb. In fact, the McKinnon and Kunis are starring in the new comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me out this summer, so yeah, I’m totally there.

Let’s just say, good movie comedies are no longer reliant on male performances. It’s a woman’s world, and they are laughing their way to the bank.

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