Review: Life After Beth (2014)

Life After Beth - 2014 - 1

Director: Jeff Baena
Screenwriter: Jeff Baena
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Anna Kendrick, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines & Matthew Gray Gubler
Runtime: 89 min // Certificate: 15

Life After Beth, the new film by debut director and writer Jeff Baena, combines the tropes of a mumblecore comedy with those of a classic “rom-zom-com”, complete with essential violence and gore, to create something that doesn’t really seem to fit in anywhere or appeal to anyone outside of a very niche market, despite its ingenious title.

The plot of the film goes thusly; Beth (Plaza; Safety Not Guaranteed) dies from a snake bite while on a hiking trip, leaving her boyfriend Zach (DeHaan; The Place Beyond the Pines) devastated. In his turmoil, Zach strikes up a quasi-friendship with Beth’s Father Maury (Reilly; We Need to Talk About Kevin), only to have that friendship tested to the limit when Beth suddenly returns from the dead with no knowledge of what has happened to her. Zach, initially thrilled but also terrified, wants to tell Beth the truth, but Maury is adamant that she be kept in the dark – and quite literally too. Before long, Beth is displaying all the classic signs of “zombieism” and more people start returning from the dead, leaving Zach with an impossible decision; kill his girlfriend, with whom he has been given a once-in-a-lifetime second chance, or allow the entire World to effectively end.

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As an idea for a short-film or an SNL sketch, Life After Beth oozes gory potential. As a feature-length film, alas, it is uncomfortable, contrived and plain unfunny. The fact that the title is wittier than anything that happens on screen isn’t particularly encouraging, but the lack of witty gags isn’t the film’s problem. No, the problem is the sheer dearth of any gags. There are a few mildly amusing moments, but they derive more from the strait-laced performances of DeHaan, Plaza and Reilly than from the script itself, and though I did chuckle a few times, the film works damn hard for what are little more than increasingly diminishing returns.

It’s a shame too because Life After Beth boasts some spirited and engaging performances that it simply doesn’t deserve. Plaza gives it her all as Beth, particularly in the latter stages of the film when she is in full-on zombie mode, and DeHaan is solid – though not as excellent as he usual is – as the helpless Zach. If anyone steals the show it’s Matthew Gray Gubler ((500) Days of Summer), who plays Zach’s brother Kyle – a cretinous, weasel-worded jobsworth who is given ideas far above his station by his role as a neighbourhood “security officer” (the American equivalent of a PCSO) – and provides a good 50% of the film’s few, strained laughs.

A “rom-zom-com” that strives so hard to hit every painful joke that it becomes more embarrassing than amusing, Life After Beth is a classic example of a film that fails to live up to its almost limitless potential.

★★

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