This flashy Netflix original packs a surprisingly powerful punch.
By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor
Sometimes, you need to de-stress from the school week by watching a bad movie.
This is how I felt earlier this month. It was a Friday night, I had completed a big chunk of homework, and I wanted to treat myself to some mindless fun. When I opened my Netflix app, I noticed a film called Afterlife of the Party, starring Victoria Justice, on the homepage. The film appeared quite corny from the poster and plot description, so I decided to give it a go. Plus, watching it would be another opportunity to indulge in some childhood nostalgia (Victorious, anyone?).
Here’s the thing that surprised me: Afterlife of the Party wasn’t a bad movie. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Afterlife of the Party follows Cassie, a young adult who lives to party. To celebrate her 25th birthday, she goes to a mad rave (much to the dislike of her prudent best friend and roommate Lisa) and endangers herself by hanging around careless party-goers and drinking way too much. While suffering from a hangover the following day, she trips and falls head first onto the toilet, killing her (thankfully, the scene is less dark and bloody than it sounds). Now dead, Cassie is stuck in a place called The In-Between, akin to purgatory. To get to heaven (although never explicitly called that), Cassie must return to Earth as a guardian angel and right her wrongs with Lisa, as well as her divorced parents. Only problem? No one can see or hear her. Or can they?
At first, the film seemed to embrace the cheesiness that I predicted it would. The acting was a bit awkward, and “hip” things like Beyonce and TikTok were sprinkled into the dialogue. However, as the story progressed, it became more sophisticated.
I was impressed that screenwriter Carrie Freedle really took the time to explore each character and their inner complexities. At first, the viewer might write Cassie off as a carefree, wild Valley girl, but we see her unpack some heavy childhood baggage her mother left with her years ago. Lisa may appear to be a typical quiet nerd, but we learn that she deeply longs for meaningful relationships and validation in her life, as shown through her career and a budding romance with her neighbor. These characters seem to fit into stereotypical molds at the start of the movie, but the audience learns that there are many more layers to them.
Although the acting was slightly clunky at first, the actors in the film quickly redeemed themselves. Other than Victoria Justice, most of the actors are relatively unknown. I think that should change because they were all quite good at conveying emotion.
Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie was when Lisa met with Cassie’s estranged mother, Sofia (Cassie tags along, too, but only Lisa can see her via a magical connection). Gloria Garcia gives a powerful performance portraying a woman who enormously regrets betraying her daughter. Her tears are incredibly convincing; in fact, they almost made me cry (and I’m not usually one to get “feels” while watching cinema).
Another equally somber scene occurs at the end of the film where the characters, now sensing Cassie’s presence, gather at a vigil to remember her on the one-year anniversary of her death. This is when, spoiler alert, every character on Cassie’s reparations list is erased, and she can finally be granted access into heaven. Even though Cassie isn’t “there,” it’s bittersweet seeing her connect with the loved ones she left behind on Earth. She even goes out of her way to help a new friend of Lisa’s, Emmy, bond with her lonely father.
Despite these intense moments, Afterlife of the Party feels unusually light compared to other streaming films. Although I believe that the film is incorrectly labeled as a comedy (not many laugh-out-loud moments here, unfortunately), the mystical elements of The In-Between and Cassie’s newly gained angel powers keep the viewer from getting too dreary while watching. There’s also a recurring fictional pop star, Koop, who creates some snappy, feel-good tunes (I do have to say that I found the choice to have him, another spoiler alert, die and join Cassie in heaven at the end of the movie was a bit odd).
Other than the drinking plot point, Afterlife of the Party is also free of the customary gratuitous violence, sex and profanity found in most Netlflix original films (unless you consider “crap” to be a swear word). In fact, even though it’s not officially classified as a family-friendly movie, I would highly recommend Afterlife of the Party for older kids and tweens since it teaches numerous valuable lessons.
Overall, I was pleasantly shocked by how much I enjoyed Afterlife of the Party. It’s not every day in 2021 that you see a film as wholesome as this one. Will Afterlife of the Party win any Oscars soon? Of course not. Will it become a popular streaming choice among teens and families (it already hit #1 on Netflix’s website a few days after its release)? Most definitely.