Afterlife of the Party (2021)

“There are no grudges in the afterlife.”

Silly, surprisingly sad, and seemingly pulled straight out of the neon 80’s, Afterlife of the Party is the kind of fleeting film that ticks the most basic boxes. Good lead performance? Check! An old formula updated for modern audiences? Check! Knowingly stupid yet entirely sincere? Check! Afterlife of the Party has a strong craft behind all of its corniness, and it shows the many ways in which faithfulness can be interpreted and experienced. It’s much better than I was expecting going in, and I think it’ll find room to resonate with viewers of all ages.

There’s not much setup necessary to this one. Cassie (Victoria Justice), an outgoing and attention grabbing socialite – who’s also a party planner by profession – has no issue with making her birthday into an extended celebration. She gets on bar tops, takes shots, surrounds herself with people who care more about having a good time than they do her. That’s what her introverted best friend and roommate Lisa (Midori Francis) sees from the outside looking in. There’s the typical big fight between the two, Cassie’s next morning hangover proves to literally be deadly, and it swiftly becomes a film about righting wrongs and doing right by those you’ve suddenly left behind. The open feels phony, but the story redirects back to a place of mourning, forgiveness, and eventually even self-actualization.

Taking a page out of It’s a Wonderful Life while bearing more of a likeliness to the often overlooked and underrated Mr. Destiny, this Netflix film uses the guardian angel Val (Robyn Scott) to navigate the spaces and the people Cassie must revisit and revise in order to move on to the next place. And while it’s obviously way lesser than its inspirations such as A Matter of Life and Death and Defending Your Life, director Stephen Herek’s film feels perfectly tailored to the people who will find it from the comfort of their couch and on the streaming service. It’s a little too long and the ending doesn’t quite hit the mark, but Afterlife of the Party rarely ever feels like a drag either.

What I appreciated most about Afterlife of the Party is that the film chose to stand by the consequences of its actions. So many movies in this budget range would’ve opted for a sweeter ending akin to the Pixar film Soul, one where Cassie gets to come back to life after learning her lesson, and yet this picture sticks to its guns. She might get a contrived happy ending, yet Afterlife of the Party rightfully feels more concerned with caring for its characters than it does appeasing audience expectations. The story isn’t always smooth sailing, but the head and the heart are almost always in the right place with this one, and I think that’s what matters most.

“Life is too short to be fearful.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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