If you’re a late 90s or early 2000s kid, Victoria Justice (“Victorious”) was likely a staple of your childhood TV-viewing experience. I remember her first as Lola Martinez in “Zoey 101,” an aspiring actress with a spunky personality, and later as perky go-getter Tori Vega in “Victorious.”
That said, it’s difficult to clear my mind of these roles and truly give Cassie — an almost 25-year-old party girl in “Afterlife of the Party” — a chance to exist as her own identity. Her character is already flawed because of the preconceived idea of who Victoria Justice is as an actress; even so, that’s not the only reason the film will fail to resonate with a larger audience.
“Afterlife of the Party” follows Cassie as she checks off her get-out-of-purgatory to-do list to avoid ending up in what her guardian angel Val (Robyn Scott, “The Kissing Booth 2”) calls “The Basement.” After she dies without giving the important people in her life the closure they need to move on — including her best friend Lisa (Midori Francis, “Good Boys”), her mother (Gloria Garcia, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and her father (Adam Garcia, “Coyote Ugly”) — Cassie must follow Val’s rules to get to “The Big Party in the Sky.”
The direct threat of going to The Basement seems too harsh a punishment for Cassie’s somewhat mild misdeeds, but it only adds to the film’s absurdity. Yes, she was a brat to her friend Lisa the night before she died, and yes, she didn’t keep in touch with her parents. But that doesn’t justify Cassie’s current predicament.
Unfortunately, Cassie’s death compiles the ridiculousness. After a night out of drinking and partying, Cassie heads to the bathroom in her hungover state, stumbling and wobbling over the sink. She puts her hand on the edge for balance, then slips and grabs onto the towel rod, but the rod breaks, and she falls and whacks her head on the toilet and then the floor. I can’t see any other direction for this scene besides humor, but still, it felt a little wrong to laugh.
The death scene may be the most complex in the movie, which says a lot, especially since it felt too choreographed to evoke any level of sympathy. It’s strange not to feel a deeper emotion when someone — especially the main character — dies in a movie. Almost immediately, the film sets itself up to be taken as a joke. The inane humor overpowers the premise, muting the significance of the more emotional scenes.
However, “Afterlife of the Party” is considered a comedy on Netflix, so perhaps the absurdity is the point. At the same time, funny moments like the death scene sometimes feel out of place, making it difficult to sympathize with the characters. Cassie’s heart-to-heart with Lisa feels overpowered by cheap humor and her visit to her father’s house feels out of place due to the lack of backstory regarding their relationship. Cassie explains that she lost touch with her dad and stopped visiting, but there are no scenes that show us what exactly happened years ago.
The only relationship developed is Cassie and Lisa’s, and that seems only because of their shared screen time before she dies rather than well-devised exposition. Other than that, there’s little to latch onto emotionally as an audience member.
Comedies should still be able to create successful heartfelt scenes. There are plenty of comedies that do it: “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Forrest Gump” and “Pitch Perfect,” to name a few. But “Afterlife of the Party” doesn’t focus enough on developing its characters and their relationships, making it hard for a larger audience to invest in the growth of the protagonist and the grieving process of those who knew her.
I never became gripped by Cassie’s journey because the people in her life didn’t seem to be more than bystanders. The film only grazes the surface when it comes to themes of grief and loss. The premise suggests a deep dive into complex themes, then merely dips a toe in the water.
Whether it be the lack of depth of certain scenes or the fact that Victoria Justice’s role as Cassie is distorted by her previous career with Nickelodeon, “Afterlife of the Party” fails to produce the level of emotion expected from a film revolving around the death of a young woman.
Although categorized as a comedy, I still expected some level of sincerity. “Afterlife of the Party” fails to create characters an audience can connect to — an irredeemable flaw for a film about grief.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.