Life After Beth (Sundance 2014 Review)

PLOT: Zach (Dane DeHaan) is thrilled when his dead girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is somehow resurrected. His enthusiasm predictably wears off once he discovers she has a new taste for human flesh.

REVIEW: The romantic "zombie" comedy, or rather rom-zom-com has become a bit of a genre unto itself. Nothing will ever touch SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but people try. Sundance this year has two such movies, COOTIES (maybe more of just a zom-com) and LIFE AFTER BETH. With a cast featuring breakout stars Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, and favorite John C. Reilly, surely LIFE AFTER BETH has to be a cut above the pack, right?

The truth is LIFE AFTER BETH isn't that great. Director Jeff Baena has made a stylish film, but despite running a scant eighty-five minutes, it drags, and likely would have fallen flat if not for one thing: as the titular Beth, Aubrey Plaza makes LIFE worth seeing.

While here she's playing the typical “Aubrey Plaza role” with lots of eye rolling and sarcasm, she's always an appealing screen presence. Beth seems to have been tailor-made for her talents, with the movie getting lots of mileage out of how blissfully unaware Beth is about her undead state. Once she gets a wee-bit-peckish for the taste of human flesh, Plaza milks it for all it's worth, and makes perhaps the screen's most lovable zombie since Bub in the original DAY OF THE DEAD. Similarly, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are very funny as her doting parents, although Reilly very abruptly disappears from the movie at one point despite being one of the leads early on- and the effect is a bit jarring. Paul Reiser (in his second Sundance movie this year, following WHIPLASH) and Cheryl Hines are also amusing in their smallish parts as DeHaan's parents who- even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse- want their son to settle down with the nice girl next door (an extended cameo by Anna Kendrick).

As for DeHaan, while he's without a doubt a brilliant actor, comedy doesn't seem to be a natural fit for him as he seems too “method-y” and brooding a performer for a wacky zombie comedy. He's not bad, but someone with stronger comedic chops would have been better and his chemistry with Plaza seems off.

Horror fans should note that of the zom-com equation, LIFE AFTER BETH definitely leans towards the latter, despite some good gore effects later in the film when the undead ranks start to swell. As a comedy, LIFE AFTER BETH stretches the “undead girlfriend” gimmick to its breaking point, although BETH delivers big laughs in the final act when none other than Garry Marshall shows up in an unexpected cameo as Zach's undead Grandpa (acting very much as one would expect Garry Marshall to act)

All in all, LIFE AFTER BETH is an OK movie, and worth watching just for Plaza. Still, it's not an especially clever film even if it is directed with a reasonable amount of style by Baena. Horror-comedy is a tough thing to pull off unless you're John Landis or Edgar Wright. Obviously BETH can't compare, but for what it is it's not bad.



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