By Sarah Osman
Afterlife of the Party backs away from serious issues, but it’s a sweet reminder of the power of female friendship.
Afterlife of the Party, directed by Stephen Herek. Streaming on Netflix.
The love story plot of Afterlife of the Party, now streaming on Netflix, isn’t all that new, but it is somewhat different. The film stars Victoria Justice (who is utterly charming) as Cassie, a 25-year-old party girl who lives with her shy best friend, Lisa (Midori Francis, also brilliant). Cassie’s hard partying ways have driven Lisa to utter distraction; the two have a spectacular fight during Cassie’s birthday party. The pair never get back together to kiss and make up because Cassie dies after she falls and hits her head on a toilet seat (not as absurd a demise as Dead Like Me’s death by toilet). Cassie ends up in the “in-between,” where she meets her guardian angel Val (Robyn Scott), who informs her that in order to make it to the Above, she has to complete unfinished business — namely, making amends with Lisa, her father, and her absentee mother.
It’s refreshing that Cassie doesn’t have to make up with an ex or is given a love interest. The film focuses on platonic love, especially the closeness of female friendships. Francis and Justice have more natural chemistry than most film rom-com leads do, so watching their characters work on a puzzle or have an impromptu dance party together comes off as endearing rather than forced. Cassie helps Lisa pursue her cute next door crush, a bumbling British nerd (played by Timothy Renouf) who encourages her to take the next big step in her paleontology career. Cassie is Lisa’s number one cheerleader, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you realize that Cassie will not be coming back.
Lisa helps Cassie communicate with her father, who has been grieving for his daughter. She also assists Cassie with her mother, who left Cassie at a young age. Justice nails Cassie’s understandable anger towards her mom — as well as her sorrow and confusion in hearing that her mother regrets leaving her. In most afterlife stories, parents are left out of the picture, so it is unusual to see an “in-between” storyline in which a family’s problems are front and center.
Where Afterlife of the Party falls short is its lack of depth and detail about Cassie’s character. We don’t learn much about Cassie’s background, other than that she had issues with her parents and she was an out-of-control partier. She is also a bit of a nerd, given her friendship with Lisa and her deep love for puzzles. But when and why did Cassie become a party animal? Was it because of a bad breakup? Was she always this outgoing? The film would have packed more of an emotional punch if we learned more about what made Cassie tick.
So, with this lack of development, the film ends up being cute and charming. It could have been more. Despite it’s rather simple premise, Afterlife of the Party delves into some serious issues, from the particular pain that comes with facing the death of someone who dies young to the powerful demands of grief. Afterlife of the Party is content to leave the viewer feeling warm and fuzzy.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman