The Afterparty review: Dave Franco, Tiffany Haddish's comedic whodunit is genre-hopping fun

The Afterparty is both an ode to and a reinvention of the most reliably absorbing of all mystery genres.

Pradeep Menon January 28, 2022 09:13:34 IST
The Afterparty review: Dave Franco, Tiffany Haddish's comedic whodunit is genre-hopping fun

Language: English

The Afterparty hits the ground flying, quite literally. A fancy mansion conveniently located at the edge of a cliff becomes the scene of a possible murder, when Xavier (Dave Franco) is thrown off a balcony and onto the beach far below. This, we learn, has occurred at the eponymous afterparty following a high school reunion. Obviously, the others present at said party – all former high school classmates of Xavier – become suspects. It seems like the setup to a classical whodunit, albeit with comic overtones.

Attempting to solve the murder is Danner (Tiffany Haddish), a detective determined to crack the case the same night, before a sworn rival is scheduled to turn up and take over. And so, she begins her task of interviewing possible eyewitnesses and suspects one by one. In an on-the-nose description of the show’s central conceit, Danner announces that she wants everyone’s individual account of the night, their respective ‘mind movie’. Everyone is the star of the movie playing in their head, after all. What follows is a look at the various perspectives of the people present at the party, with every recital assuming a genre of its own. (Danner even grabs a bag of popcorn as she begins listening to the first story. As I mentioned, on-the-nose.)

She starts off with Aniq (Sam Richardson), who appears to be the prime suspect at first glance. Aniq is a love-struck nerd, who becomes the protagonist of his own rom-com, involving his divorced school crush Zoë (Zoë Chao). It is the kind of story with a balloon-popping meet cute and moments when it rains just at the right or wrong time. Zoë’s ex-husband, resident douchebro Brett (Ike Barinholtz) on the other hand, visualises his night as a Fast & Furious action flick; complete with unlikely car chases by the (self-proclaimed) hero who is willing to move the earth for his family.

From Sam’s best friend Yasper (Ben Schwartz) to Zoë, to even Walt (Jamie Demetriou) – that guy in class who no one remembers; everyone seems scarred from events that occurred 15 years back when they were in high school. Their individual recollections of the night tie into each, but they also differ in ways big and small. Every account helps shed a little more light on the dynamic between the characters in play, but it also makes the mystery murkier.

The idea of jumping genres might seem like a gimmick at first, but it settles in as a singularly fresh way of revealing how these people are different from each other deep in the head. (Not to mention how it adds to the intrigue behind the only question that matters – whodunit?)

The creator and director of The Afterparty is Christopher Miller, one half of the duo behind the Jump Street and Lego movies – both genre-bending franchises in their own way. Miller’s penchant for that kind of cross-fade is revealed in its full glory here.

The Afterparty review Dave Franco Tiffany Haddishs comedic whodunit is genrehopping fun

It did take me a minute to buy into the parody vibe of the murder mystery as it kicked off. Some punchlines seemed like they walked off from the set of an ‘honest’ sketch and into this show. But once its genre-hopping kicks in, the focus shifts from the crime specifically, to the characters and their unique take on the events of the night, culminating in Xavier’s murder. The comedy lingers all through this over-the-top pastiche, but it begins to work its charm soon enough. Perhaps it was inevitable that Rashomon and SNL would meet someday. Thankfully, the union isn’t an unholy one. (I’d have drawn the line if zombies showed up.)

It helps that the show provides a platform for some sparkling comic acting. Aniq designs escape rooms for a living. Ironically, he is the one embroiled in the centre of a sticky situation that he needs to find his way out of. You’re rooting for him all through, whether he killed Xavier or not. But you’re also rooting for Danner, a detective of questionable competence, to solve the crime. Sam Richardson and Tiffany Haddish are tasked with much of the heavy lifting with their respective characters. They are up to the task, and how.

The rest of the ensemble hold their end up admirably as well. Murder victim Xavier became a famous popstar after leaving school, and the celebrity has just made him into more of an endearing prick. I don’t know why, but it seems like a role tailormade for Dave Franco. Somehow you’re both happy and sad about the fact that imperfect Xavier’s perfect life suddenly came crashing down. And Zoë Chao probably gets the most intriguing character in Zoe, her narration of the night finding low-key the coolest genre of them all.

What I’m unconvinced about is the staggered release of episodes for the show. While that is the model Apple TV Plus has followed for all shows so far, this particular one seems more suited to a binge-in-one-go all-episode drop, considering the entire thing plays out in one night. Whether the intrigue will hold from week to week remains to be seen. Still, perhaps the gap in episodes can help you savour the riffs on the little tropes of the respective ‘genre’ being lampooned.

(Note: Apple TV provided media outlets with screeners for seven out of the eight episodes of the show for review purposes. Three episodes of the show release on 28 January, followed by weekly episodes on subsequent Fridays.)

Either way, the show is almost relentlessly watchable once it hits its stride. The Afterparty is both an ode to and a reinvention of the most reliably absorbing of all mystery genres. Once you’ve bought into the fiction of a murder, you’ll always be curious about the identity of the killer. It isn’t often, though, that you get a consistently compelling journey on the road to discovering who dun it.

Watch the trailer here

Pradeep Menon is a Mumbai-based writer and independent filmmaker.

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