Life After Beth had me conflicted before I even entered the theater. On the one hand, I think Aubrey Plaza is a really strong comedic actress, and I support all of her endeavors (except for the one that I don’t). On the other hand, this thing stars Dane DeHaan (you know, from The Amazing Spider-Man 2). He’s the broodiest creepazoid this side of angst-ville, and I’ve never enjoyed that persona in any of his projects. But I have an inexplicable need to see as many movies as humanly possible, so I’m not going to turn this one down.
Turns out Life After Beth is more than just one of the better movie titles of the year. The film – from first-time director Jeff Baena (co-writer of I Heart Huckabess) – is your typical boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-girl-comes-back-to-life-girl-might-be-a-zombie movie. After his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza) dies, well-off young layabout Zach (DeHaan), finds himself suffering through a mournful malaise. That is, until he realizes that Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) have been hiding the fact that Beth came back to life a few days after her funeral. As more and more strange things begin occurring, Zach must reckon with the idea that some relationships just aren’t meant to last forever.
Baena’s script is really interesting, and riffs well on the zombie genre, which has already faced it’s fair share of skewerings. The zombies in Life After Beth are more quirky than anything else, with their sensual interest in smooth jazz and their compulsive need to reside in the attic. It’s exactly the kind of weird touch the movie needs to separate itself in an incredibly well-worn field.
Unfortunately Life After Beth doesn’t fully go for it. There’s a lot of weird in the movie, especially the relationship between Zach and his neighborhood security guard brother, Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), which hints at a fraternal connection that never really pays off. There are the bones of an emotional arc that is actually really fun, but it doesn’t get fully fleshed out. But the weird that still permeates the movie does make it a very entertaining experience, it’s just too bad Baena seems a little too timid to fully embrace it.
Or maybe the full-on weirdness was in the script, but got lost in the edit. That’s the problem with a final cut – you never know if what got left out was left out on purpose.
Regardless, Life After Beth is a really good time. Baena seems to be trying to make a statement about white privilege, but that never really gets off the ground. Instead we get a much more straightforward comedy – with an excellent supporting cast, including Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Jim O’Heir and Adam Pally in brief roles, and one very popular actor making a small appearance very much in contrast to her usual type. You know what? Even DeHaan is good. I’m not ready to turn the good ship Ignorance around just yet when it comes to his career, but Life After Beth at least implies that he is aware of his type-casting and is willing to play off of it.
But the real standout is Plaza, who commits so impressively to her slowly deteriorating (in more ways than one) character. Plaza gets to play Beth at a lot of levels, and she handles them all quite well.
Life After Beth doesn’t break new ground in the comedy, horror, horror-comedy, or comedy-horror realms, but I don’t think that every movie needs to in order to be appreciated. It is a funny 90 minute movie that should appeal to a broad audience if given a chance. Or maybe if it bombs it will help bury DeHaan. Win-win either way, really.