Afterlife Of The Party Continues Hollywood's Death-But-Fun Trope

Netflix's Afterlife of the Party follows party animal Cassie (played by Victoria Justice) into the afterlife, continuing one of Hollywood's favorite trends of the 2010's: the death-but-fun trope. A self-centered social butterfly who dies in a freak accident after her 25th birthday, Cassie finds herself in the In-Between, a somewhat playful purgatory where the recently deceased are granted the opportunity to right their wrongs and resolve their moral debts to ascend -- or, if they fail, descend -- to their true afterlife.

Tonally all over the place, Afterlife of the Party uses universally sad subject matter -- friends and families grieving over the loss of a loved one -- to craft a fun and quirky romantic dramedy driven by the central theme of redemption. Though in their mid-20s, the relationship between the two lead friends, Cassie and her more responsible survivor gal pal Lisa (Midori Francis), feels emotionally stuck in "teen drama" mode, ultimately detracting from the emotional import of Cassie's death. Overall, Afterlife of the Party's entire cast and characters seem unable to strike a believable balance between grief and comedy.

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This balance is a tightrope act every movie and TV show of the "death-but-fun" genre must pull off to succeed. The fantasy of having a second chance to unburden your heart, to right unresolved wrongs, to say the unsaid, etc. is a popular wish fulfillment device for film and TV, dating back to the 1947 Christmas classic It's A Wonderful Life up to HBO's Dead Like Me and the more recent NBC sitcom The Good Place, which also follows the deceased to a purgatory-like afterlife -- albeit with a greater overarching mythos and more philosophical pondering than what's found in Afterlife of the Party.

Inversely, there's the "death-but-not-fun" flipside to this genre, as perhaps best exemplified by Gaspar Noé's psychedelic magnum opus Enter The Void (2009), that may be instructive on what's required of its death-but-fun counterpart. Whereas the death-but-not-fun subgenre typically denies the dead any post-life agency, forcing them to morally reckon with the unalterable consequences of their lives, the death-but-fun genre allows its subjects enough agency to right their wrongs -- or if they're not allowed this, the comedic tone of the genre at least diminishes the seriousness of their lives, reducing life itself to sheer entertainment.

This is where Afterlife of the Party makes its biggest mistake: its story relies on the redemption narrative arc of Cassie righting her wrongs while simultaneously diminishing the seriousness of her wrongs with an overall jovial, juvenile tone -- one reminiscent of actress Justice's younger days with Nickelodeon. The result is a tonally stilted, unfocused story that fails to tug at any heartstrings or make any emotional impact on the audience.

This tonal issue isn't a problem inherent to the death-but-fun genre but it is an inherent risk that many previous entries in the genre have successfully navigated. Especially in the film's second half, Afterlife of the Party does somewhat catch up with itself, elevating the stakes of Cassie's journey through the afterlife with a few emotionally resonant scenes and sequences. However, on the whole, Afterlife of the Party continues Hollywood's death-but-fun trend without doing much to innovate the trope or advance it forward in any discernable direction.

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