Life After Beth
I love movies, I'll be the first one to tell you that but there are few I look forward to seeing and Life After Beth was one of those few. After reading the rave reviews from Sundance I was eagerly awaiting the release in July, and yet, Jeff Baena's writing and directing debut ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me.
The premise is a girlfriend – Beth Slocum – goes hiking by herself and dies of a snake bite, the boyfriend – Zach – is nearly inconsolible, he wears all black, loses his appetite and motivation to do practically anything. That is until he goes over to the Slocum's house to find out that Beth is actually alive, “resurrected” as Mr. and Mrs. Slocum like to say, as she just appeared on their doorstep one night with some memory loss and a curious bite mark on her leg that Zach notices. Zach is elated and happy that he gets a second chance at his relationship with Beth which was beginning to have some problems. Little does he know the problems get real worse real fast. With that, the movie just gets even crazier. as not only Beth but other people “resurrect” and chaos ensues.
The acting is spot on for Aubrey Plaza who plays Beth. I am a huge fan of Plaza's but this is a great difference from her usual deadpan humor as April Ludgate in “Parks and Recreation.” Once she is resurrected she is very much in love with her boyfriend still, horny even, but that horniness turns into anger and hunger, as zombies typically do get from not eating. Beth begins to lash out at the littlest things, becoming more ravenous and less human. It works perfectly and she is where you generate the most laughs from. From her jealous zombie girlfriend rages to her new found love of smooth jazz which seems to calm her zombie anger, Beth is the clear character favorite in the movie. It could be the makeup or Plaza's commitment to being a zombie, I argue it is both as Beth's ultimate zombie transformation in the end becomes one of the best – if not the best things in the movie.
Dane DeHaan plays Zach who is just okay, he is one actor I always feels like needs to emote more and even in this film you wanted his face to move as it didn't seem like it wanted to. You wanted to believe he was hurting from losing Beth but you didn't really believe it. The supporting cast is good for the short moments they are in it: Matthew Gray Gruber plays Zach's older brother who works for the police department or neighborhood watch and then joins the zombie resistance at the end. Beth's parents are played by Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly who play the protective but still a little bit ignorant parents of a zombie pretty spot on. Anna Kendrick plays Emily who's only in a short bit of time, but in typical Kendrick fashion, steals the scenes.
The tone of the movie can't really make up its mind. Is it a weird zombie rom-com? Is it a horror movie? Is it both? Unlike Shaun of the Dead which altogether created it's own genre of action zombie comedy, this one kind of jumps from one genre to another not making up it's mind and not cementing itsself as a new one. The first half an hour is quirky funny zom-com-rom as Zach attempt's to continue his second shot at romance, but his mood quickly changes once he realizes she's got smelly skin, breath, and is a full-fledged zombie. It becomes almost an action movie but zombie bloody stuff doesn't really happen until nearly the end. The film leaves you almost scratching your head as to what exactly happened. The Of Mice and Men-esque scene was very sweet, especially DeHaan's short monologue, but it still left you wanting to feel more.
The biggest problem I had with the film was how? How did all of these dead people just decide to come back from the dead? There is no clear answer. Zach tries to find the Slocum's old Haitian cleaning lady because he believes she might know, but it turns out being a dead it. It clearly turns out ot be one of those movies that doesn't want to give you an answer and wants to prove to you that's not what it was about, I still wanted to know.
Overall, while Plaza definitely did not disappoint, the rest of the film did. I wanted to laugh more, I wanted to be grossed out more, I just wanted something more. Just like Beth, my hunger was never satisfied.