Netflix’s Afterlife of the Party borrows heavily from Just Like Heaven, a 2005 rom-com starring Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon. Afterlife of the Party follows party girl Cassie as she attempts to resolve her issues with those closest to her after her untimely death. Given just five days to tie up the various loose ends she left behind, Cassie is tasked with giving closure to her friends and family while overcoming her own shortcomings and insecurities in order to gain access to the “Above” — clearly the better of the two options.
Despite its heavy subject matter, Afterlife of the Party is still fun, playing on tropes most recently popularised in shows such as Dead Like Me and The Good Place. The idea of the recently deceased needing to resolve their own personal affairs before they can successfully move on has been a long-standing staple in film and TV, though, and Afterlife of the Party is the latest in a long line of films that make use of the wish-fulfillment device. Its use of familiar tropes does make for a generally satisfying watch, although its lack of originality is glaringly obvious to fans of mid-’00s romantic comedies — specifically, those who remember 2005’s Just Like Heaven, starring a fresh-faced, pre-MCU Mark Ruffalo.
While Afterlife of the Party‘s cast of characters might be a far cry from those of Just Like Heaven, the Netflix Original’s core premise and narrative themes are remarkably similar. The two films being borne of two entirely different eras of cinema go some way towards making this far less obvious, though. Afterlife of the Party is a straight-to-streaming release aimed mostly at a younger demographic, whereas Just Like Heaven sits squarely in peak millennial rom-com territory, concealing just how much of its story the former borrowed from the latter.
Both films feature a woman in a state of purgatory, who can only be seen by one single person with whom they share a connection. In both cases, the limbo-bound protagonist has spent their waking life shying away from resolving their most pressing issues, and both are forced to do so vicariously through the only person that can actually see them. Both the romantic comedy and the Netflix Original derive their humor from how the person seeing the spirit must look to an outside perspective, and both also use this connection to help the spirit character connect with their family. Both films also feature two protagonists; one living and one deceased, one a hyper-organized workaholic and one with unresolved emotional problems that can only be fixed through its film’s respective supernatural intervention. In both films, the characters are connected, and their relationship is the linchpin of the entire plot, playing an important part in the eventual conclusion.
Just Like Heaven and Afterlife of the Party even share smaller details, like spiritually sensitive small business owners, an abundance of plant life, and a protagonist with a work-life balance issue. One might be more romantically driven than the other, but the two films share more than a few striking similarities. However, considering that Mark Ruffalo’s stature as a star of the MCU lends Just Like Heaven an A-list lead, and that Afterlife of the Party has already faced criticism for its jumbled tone, it’s all too clear which film is the imitation, and why it borrowed so heavily from the other.