Although I liked the sweet, sentimental vibe the weeper “Afterlife of the Party” reaches for, it never comes close to transcending its modest aims and becoming special.
But I’m totally on board the idea of Netflix being the after-teen-stardom home for Victoria Justice, whose taste or offers still put her on the “family friendly” side of the Hollywood equation.
She’s the perky, sometimes manic anchor of this story of a party-girl/party planner who meets an untimely end. Her “Afterlife” sees her forced to spend a short stint in purgatory taking care of “unfinished business” with the BFF (Midori Francis) she had a falling out with just before her accident, with her sad and lonely yoga instructor Dad (Adam Garcia) and the wife and mother (Gloria Garcia) who walked out on them both years before.
Miss “Victorious” plays Cassie, whose insistence on a week of partying — “Cassie-palooza” — to celebrate her 25th birthday is pretty much her undoing.
Paleontologist, childhood friend and roomie Lisa (Francis, of “Good Boys” and TV’s “Dash & Lily”) would rather stay home and do jigsaw puzzles, “like we used to.” Nothing doing! Champagne with my “friends!”
“It’s like you aren’t worth anything if you aren’t seen,” Lisa whines.
Cassie is shallow, sure. Always perfectly turned-out, too. But she doesn’t stay in touch with her father, and is flat-out estranged from her mother.
And since yes, you can die from a hangover (tripping), she’s a goner. This helpful guardian angel (Robyn Scott, kind of funny) is here to “help you with the transition” and lay out the rules — the number of days the unseen/unheard Cassie has to “fix” what she left broken in life.
Hallmark movie veteran Carrie Freedle scripted this, and one sign of a lazy script is when it goes to the trouble of introducing “rules,” and then can’t figure out how to write around them. That “can’t see me/hear me” thing falls by the wayside at the drop of a hat.
The cleverest bits stick to that rule — Cassie hiding all of Lisa’s frumpy clothes so that she wears her cutest outfit to work, and dazzles the Brit composer (Timothy Renouf) neighbor she’s been crushing on, Cassie putting an LP on the Brit’s turntable that puts romantic ideas in his ears and then his head.
Director Stephen Herek, who went from “Critters” and the original “Bill & Ted” to directing Dolly Parton movies, Christmas TV movies, and Dolly Parton Christmas TV movies, doesn’t stand in the way of the schmaltz here. The picture works well enough when we hit the emotional peaks, but the film dawdles along, with only the tiniest of laughs and the limpest of one-liners.
“Somebody call Marie Kondo,” Cassie chirps at seeing her dad’s forlorn beachside house. “‘Joy’ is NOT sparking here!”
The best line spins out of Cassie’s crush for a singer she was just dying to meet before, you know. Val the angel isn’t letting the ghost Cassie score time with him.
“Way to ANGEL block me, Val!”
Justice, running through countless cute and sexy outfits and gobs of glittery makeup, plays a slightly more adult version of her teen TV guise here. Maybe she’s not “growing” as an actress, or broadening her image. No R-rated “Spring Breaks” for her.
But Justice carries off this tear-jerker, mainly because she has to. Francis is the one co-star in her league, charm and charisma-wise. Almost everybody else cast in it is “adequate,” and not much more.
If a lot of people Netflix it, maybe this will be her “afterlife” — light, family-friendly entertainments for the streaming service. Wonder if Dolly needs a Christmas sidekick this year?
Cast: Victoria Justice, Midori Francis, Robyn Scott, Adam Garcia, Gloria Garcia and Timothy Renouf
Credits: Directed by Stephen Herek, scripted by Carrie Freedle. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:49