LIFE AFTER BETH (2014)
Starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Eva La Dare, Thomas McDonell, Alia Shawkat, Allan McLeod, Paul Weitz, Michelle Azar, Jim O’Heir and Garry Marshall.
Screenplay by Jeff Baena.
Directed by Jeff Baena.
Distributed by American Zoetrope Pictures. 87 minutes. Rated R.
Life After Beth posits an intriguing question. What is harder to deal with? A ravenous, bloodthirsty zombie or a terribly needy girlfriend?
Quite a dilemma. I’m not sure I could answer that.
Then they add the kicker: What if they were one and the same?
It’s a clever premise, but one that would be even sharper if the filmmakers had bothered to explore the complexities of the situation rather than skating by on its one big idea. Life After Beth is a one-gag movie, but it’s a periodically very amusing gag.
However, how much you enjoy Life After Beth pretty much depends on how much you are interested in seeing yet another zombie comedy. The genre was pretty much perfectly skewered in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s 2004 film Shaun of the Dead. The addition of the idea of dating the undead was already covered in last year’s similar Warm Bodies.
There must have been high hopes the Life After Beth would take off, because it has a shockingly star-studded cast for such a goofy little trifle of a film. However, like most zom-coms (hell, like most zombie films in general), Life After Beth starts out marginally interesting and becomes less and less watchable as the film goes on.
We only see Beth (played with great spirit by Parks & Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza) alive once, walking alone and silently on a hiking path.
Her on-and-off boyfriend Zach (The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s Dane DeHaan, who is a much better actor than this role allows him to show) finds out that Beth has suddenly and apparently violently died. They had just argued before she left, so he is a bundle of guilty emotions and mournful love.
His family – mom (Cheryl Hines), dad (Paul Reiser) and gun nut brother (Matthew Gray Gubler of Criminal Minds) – do not understand how distraught he is, so Zach starts a dysfunctional mourning club with Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), spending most of his time at their house.
When Beth’s parents cut him off, Zach starts neurotically stalking their home, eventually becoming convinced that he actually saw Beth inside. Turns out she mysteriously has returned, but now she is suddenly completely loving, ravenously hungry, insecure and she has a new-found obsession with smooth jazz favorites by Kenny G and Chuck Mangione.
It’s odd, Zach figures, but hey, he’s got his girlfriend back. At first he enjoys having her back, but as Beth starts to decompose, become violent and get really clingy, Zach realizes that maybe it’s not so good to have her back at all.
Plaza throws herself into the role, becoming as funny as she can be in a role as a decaying, blood-hungry ex from hell can be. (Though this type of falling apart role was done better before in An American Werewolf in London.)
However, as the comedy gets broader and the violence gets harsher, the audience suddenly starts wondering “What’s the point?” Life After Beth is a lot of very talented people sort of spinning their wheels.
Jay S. Jacobs