I think we all know a Deanna Miles. She’s that bubbly, effervescence, carefree, force of nature that you just want to drop a 16-ton weight on her head. McCarthy plays Deanna, a newly divorced mom with unabashed zeal that decides to go back to college with her kid to get her degree in Archeology (???), because that’s SO helpful in 2018! Her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) isn’t exactly comfortable with the idea, but her sorority sisters just love her. There’s older Helen (Gillian Jacobs), known as the scientific wonder “Coma Girl”, and the socially inept Debbie (Jennie Ennis) and Amanda (Adria Arjona).
Deanna gets her own dorm room and her own creepy roommate, Leonor (Heidi Gardner) and soon gets into the swing of campus life, parties, school work, and hooking up with a cute frat boy-toy named Jack (Luke Benward), who’s young enough to be her son! Maddie’s somehow okay with this, as is Deanna’s crazy best friend, Christine (Maya Rudolph). And oh, the hijinks Deanna gets into! Like individual SNL skits tied loosely together to make a movie, “Dee Dee” becomes the toast of Maddie’s sorority house, the ire of the Archaeology classes nasty queen bee (Debby Ryan), and the teachers pet (after all, they DID go to school 20 together years ago).
Through Deanna’s shenanigans dealing with her despicable husband (Matt Walsh) and his new snarky wife-to-be (Julie Bowen), she manages to solve everyone’s problems with her home-spun “mom” advice, nurturing, and cooking. AwwwwWWWwww! When the best part of this movie are the secondary players and not the star, there’s a problem. Written by McCarthy and her husband/director Ben Falcone (who shows up in a cameo as an Uber driver), this movie suffers by not going the distance of being funny enough. All the potential for a truly hilarious movie was there, but none of the comedy was pushed in the right direction.
Frat/college comedies like Animal House, Back To School, Real Genius, American Pie had that edge that is sadly lacking in this movie. This is like House Bunny, but minus the outrageous humor or the gratuitous girls in bikinis. While this movie does possess some funny moments, it’s not always from McCarthy. The best laughs come from comic gem Maya Rudolph who steals every scene she’s in, as does Gillian Jacobs (from TV’s Community) and Heidi Gardner as the eternally glum roommate.
McCarthy, since she wrote the script with hubby Falcone, does her usual riffing and ad-libbing through scenes, which work occasionally, but not enough to sustain an hour and 45 minutes. Falcone’s direction is all over the map on this one, as is the plot structure. McCarthy had much better material (and story) with her last film, The Boss, where the plot didn’t meander from scene to scene without any reason. There’s even a scene of her giving a class speech that is truly cringe-worthy, something that I though I’d never see from her. Yikes!
Playing pretty much himself, Dangerfield is Thornton Melon, a super-rich guy who owns a chain of Tall ‘n’ Fat clothing stores across America. Everything seems great in his life, until it all comes crashingdown; Thornton catches his second wife cheating on him–with a midget! Upset, he and his BFF, personal bodyguard, and chauffeur Lou (Burt Young) drive to Grand Lakes University, the home of his only son, Jason (Keith Gordon). BUT it turns out Jason has been keeping secrets from his father… he’s not on the diving team like he told him, but instead works as a towel boy and treated badly by star diver, Chas Osborn (perennial bad boy William Zabka).
Thornton enrolls there with his son, thanks to a HUGE grant to the school, and rooms with his son and his goofy friend, Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, jr). Money sure has it’s privileges and Thornton turns their humble little dorm room into a magnificent posh apartment, buys brand new books for class, and even hires Kurt Vonnegut to write a paper about… Kurt Vonnegut! All this wealth, egotism, and strutting around campus incurs the rath of pompous Dr. Philip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead), dean of the business school, but not attractive literature professor and free spirit, Dr. Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman), who later strikes up a romance with Thornton.
Of course, you can’t have a Rodney Dangerfield movie without hijinks galore, and this movies got ’em! There’s bar brawls, parties being thrown with Oingo-Boing playing, crazed history teachers like Professor Terguson (the late, great Sam Kinison) squaring off with Thornton over Richard Nixon, and Dangerfield throwing out his signature one-liners one after the other. And let’s forget the climatic feature of the film when the diving coach (M. Emmet Walsh) convinces Thornton to come out of retirement and win the diving championship with his spectacular “Triple Lindy” dive!
You’d think with FOUR writers (Harold Ramis, Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, and Peter Torokvei) this film would be like Billy Madison, a dismal and unfunny collection of skits about a grown man who goes back to school, but it wasn’t. The writing was not only comedy gold but smart stuff: Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters fame, Torokvei & Kampmann both wrote for WKRP in Cincinnati, and Will Porter wrote for the Newhart TV show. Then you had Dangerfield himself throwing out his pearls of wisdom; you couldn’t go wrong with a script like this.
Director Alan Metter (Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Moving) nicely handled this comedy and steered Dangerfield into one the highest grossing movie of 1986. Sure the story is formulaic and by the numbers, but when you have the talents of Dangerfield, Young, Gordon, Downey, Zabka, Kinison, Kellerman, and everyone else giving it their best shot, you have movie magic. Tasty Trivia: Dangerfield wanted Kinison as the history teacher. Their scene together? Watch Dangerfield… he can’t stop laughing at Kinison.