Review: Life After Beth
While the first iteration of the film was being shopped around in 2003, well before the zombie apocalypse hit a breaking point in television and film, Life After Beth is still a refreshing take on the indefatigable creatures, here taking a romantic and comedic turn as realized by writer and director Jeff Baena.
The titular Beth Slocum is played by Aubrey Plaza, given a more innocent and less dead pan character to play (though certainly dead). She dies in the opening (not a spoiler), only to come back a short while later. Her parents, the hysterical (funny) John C. Reilly and hysterical (loony) Molly Shannon don’t care how or why – they are just happy she is back.
Meanwhile, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) can’t stop grieving over his dead ex-girlfriend. Sure, their relationship was maybe getting rocky, but her passing is too much to endure. Comically he grieves, given little support from his militaristic lunatic of a brother (Matthew Gray Gubler), his oblivious mother (Cheryl Hines), and genial father (Paul Reiser).
When Zach can’t help but spend time with Beth’s parents (playing chess with her dad and wearing black is how his grief manifests), he eventually discovers Beth is alive (well, dead) and has been kept figuratively locked up.
That which transpires when you are dating something you thought was dead but is now alive but doesn’t know she is dead is the unique terrain traversed by Baena in what is both a heartfelt and absurd comedy.
It certainly leans towards the latter, but DeHaan is a compelling enough presence and gives a grounded performance to elicit sympathy for a frustrated, confused, and ultimately tortured young man. After all, the girl he loves (it’s probably not true love and more likely enhanced by the fake he thought he lost her) is a zombie and maybe wants to eat him. So naturally he is wary when she insists they go for a walk in the woods.
When there is a fiery incident on the beach, he grows even the more wary.
While the first half of the film is a welcome intimate and charmed comedy, driven by the two lovers and supported by their respective weird families, the second half carefully tries to balance the standard zombie outbreak. That is, this is a film centered on how one person would deal with that whole chaotic event. The world starts to crumble around him, and the film goes into some adventurous areas; some work, some don’t.
Life After Beth spirals into tenuous-controllable chaos, offering up a finale that has lost its initial sweetness and novelty but is still entertaining. You get a stove as a backpack, but it’s a gimmick compared to the genuinely funny scenes prior, including every time Reilly shows up and the welcome appearance of Anna Kendrick as Zach’s old friend.
It’s title not withstanding (see what they did? ‘Beth’ rhymes with ‘Death,’), a collection of talented comedic actors see through a ridiculous and dedicated script about a relationship that is simultaneously incredible universal and utterly unprecedented. Love is tricky, indeed.