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‘Afterlife of the Party’ is dead on arrival

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There are a surprising number of movies out there that are built on the premise of someone dying, only to return from the Great Beyond to right various wrongs. Technically, these are ghost stories, though a lot of them are somewhat inexplicably played for laughs.

On the relatively rare occasion that the conceit works, you get a movie that is heartfelt and funny and that fully earns whatever emotional payoff it seeks. These are the films that manage to be both funny and poignant, deriving genuine humor and pathos from the narrative circumstances.

When it doesn’t work, well … that’s when you get “Afterlife of the Party.”

The Netflix streamer – directed by Stephen Herek from a script by Carrie Freedle – is a derivative clunker of a film, seemingly assembled from vague recollections of far better movies. It’s the sort of movie that attempts to elicit laughs through broad comedy and tears through fraught emotionality, only to succeed on neither front, resulting in a vapid and unsatisfying movie experience.

Cassie (Victoria Justice, “Trust”) is a young lady who has everything she wants. She’s a constant partier who has turned that personality trait into a career – she’s a party planner. Sure, she hasn’t talked to her yoga teacher dad in a while and she’s estranged from the mother who left her when she was just a kid, but she won’t let that keep her down. And with her 25th birthday looming, she is ready to get after it in a big way.

Her roommate and best friend Lisa (Midori Francis, TV’s “Dash & Lily”) doesn’t share Cassie’s devotion to the nightlife – she’s a shy aspiring archaeologist who works at the natural history museum – but the two of them are lifelong friends despite their differences.

However, while in the process of celebrating her birthday week with a variety of hipsters and hangers-on, Cassie has a little too much to drink and gets into it with Lisa. The two fight, resulting in both saying some pretty hurtful things. Lisa goes home, while Cassie continues the party into the wee hours.

But the morning after, an unfortunate and (unintentionally?) hilarious accident leads to Cassie’s demise. She finds herself in a luxuriously appointed room, speaking to a mysterious person named Val (Robyn Scott, TV’s “Vagrant Queen”). It turns out that Cassie has unfinished business that must be attended to; if she handles it properly, she gets to go up. If not? Down she goes. Val is her guide, and provides her with a list of the people with whom she must make amends. Three people: Lisa and Cassie’s parents.

And so, Cassie winds up back on Earth. It has been a year since she passed; she’s left to figure out how to fix things with people despite their not being able to see or hear her – that’s part of the drill, standard stuff. Except … maybe it isn’t?

Hijinks ensue as Cassie tries to work out how to make things right with Lisa while also figuring out how to reconnect with her drifting father and to find a way to forgive the mother who abandoned her. And along the way, Cassie starts to realize that maybe there was more to life than partying hard – a valuable lesson even if that life has come to an end.

“Afterlife of the Party” is precisely the sort of vacuous offering that invites people to denigrate the Netflix original writ large. Beneath the glittery façade is … nothing. A yawning emptiness populated by former Nickelodeon child stars and a general contempt for quality filmmaking. It’s not just that the movie is bad, it’s that it almost feels insulting, like it is mocking you for having been dumb enough to watch it.

As for whose fault that is? Tough to say, but there’s a LOT of blame to go around.

Stephen Herek is a bit of a journeyman behind the camera; while he’s actually responsible for a couple of personal favorites (“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “The Mighty Ducks” and “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” foremost among them), he hasn’t made anything remotely good in at least a couple of decades – and that streak continues. What he’s done is fine – uninspired, but fine. Meanwhile, this is Freedle’s first non-Hallmark Channel screenplay … and it might be her last, if the effectiveness is any indication. Cliché-riddled and bland, there’s nothing of substance here.

And then there’s the cast. Victoria Justice has no business being asked to carry a film, though she does her absolute best to try, bless her heart. She just doesn’t have the chops to handle even the little bit of emotional engagement the film asks of her. Francis is a little better, though she’s basically just the one-note wet blanket, so she’s got the easier task; that said, she’s even less interesting to watch. The supporting cast simply vibrates with meh-ness; whether it’s Adam Garcia’s mopey dad or Gloria Garcia’s unsympathetic mom or Timothy Renouf as the nerdy hunk next door, everyone is operating at more or less replacement level. The highlight – such as it is – is probably Scott as Val, but even then … *shrug*.

“Afterlife of the Party” isn’t particularly funny or emotionally engaging, despite desperately striving to somehow be both these things. It’s an empty vessel, a placeholder of a film that feels like something made up to be a punchline in a TV show about the entertainment industry. Only this is sadly, inexplicably real. If you do wind up going down, don’t be shocked if this movie is on all the TVs in the waiting room.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 06 September 2021 09:58

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