Do a Shot: to Aubrey Plaza’s dedication as a zombie
Take a Drink: for each romantic comedy cliche
Take a Drink: during each argument
By: Matt Conway (Four Beers) –
After years of vampires being the cool character in the horror genre, it seems like interest as gone back to zombies. Thanks in large part to The Walking Dead, in both television and games the zombie genre has had a renaissance over the past few years. This has carried over to film, with World War Z, Zombieland, and Warm Bodies being three of the four highest earning zombie films ever. Making this renaissance even more interesting is the fact that the zombie genre has become a bit more versatile in films today.
Both Warm Bodies and Zombieland were actually comedies instead of the typical horror film, using zombies as a canvas for humor. While neither were as good as Shaun of the Dead, another zombie comedy, both were valiant efforts that showed that new and interesting ideas could be blended together with zombies. Continuing that trend is Life After Beth, which may be the first ever romantic comedy with zombies, or better known as zom-com. Sadly, though, it appears that Life After Beth largely misses the mark.
Life After Beth follows Zach, who is distraught when his girlfriend Beth dies. Suddenly, she mysteriously returns from the dead, but it seems that she may not be her normal self.
Aubrey Plaza is one of my personal favorite comedic talents around, and she really gives it her all here. Doing a lot less of her trademark awkward humor that she does brilliantly in Parks and Recreation, Plaza here instead has to rely on more of her physical presence and her lack of awareness to her state to create laughs. For the most part, Plaza does quite well at this, getting the some of the film’s few big laughs, thanks in large part to her pure dedication to the role once as she makes her transition into a zombie.
Plaza is not the only standout in a cast that does a good job throughout. Dane DeHaan is not breaking any barriers here with his performance, as he plays the typical teen character that he does in most flicks. Still, he does it quite well here as always. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon share some of the film’s best scenes as Beth’s parents, and despite appearing sparingly are able to make an impact on the audience. Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, and Matthew Gary Gubler also do a solid job in their smaller roles in the film.
As you’d expect with a film staring comedy heavyweights, Life After Beth has its fair share of funny points. Surprisingly, most of these bits come from more of the physical reaction rather than actual jokes. Scenes of Beth’s parents manically arguing with Zach are not really funny because of what they are talking about, but mainly because of the pure manic nature both Reilly and Shannon posses during these scenes. The laughs here really have to be credited to the cast, who are just putting in so much effort.
Life After Beth should also be given credit for being quite unpredictable in the story department. The story takes a lot of chances as far as direction goes, even with major third act twists that change the dynamic of the film entirely. With so many films now these days playing it safe, it’s nice to see actual risk, but it seems like that risk in the end does not quite pay off.
While I applaud the daring of the big third act twist here, which even got one of the biggest laughs in the film, it overall just does not work in the grand scheme of the film’s story. It feels like a good idea in concept, but it isn’t fully fleshed out in a logical sense considering this film’s universe. The lack of sense is made even worse when the film just kind of leaves this concept with its safe ending, making the daring nature of this twist look kind of odd in comparison.
This twist also brings up a big tonal change, as the first hour that is largely played for comedic effect becomes mainly dramatic. This sudden change felt very drastic, and it a lot of ways brought this film to a halt. The pure dedication to the twist here changes a lot of characters and their motives, I thought unnecessarily so, as it ruined what the film had going for it in its more comedic first half.
It’s even worse that the dramatic moments in the film have no real effect. The biggest issue with Life After Beth is that the romance between Zach and Beth never was as fully realized as it could have been. The story decision in Jeff Baena’s script to only show a few scenes of the couple together before the full transformation was a poor decision, as it gives the audience a very shallow look in their romance. Sure, they are making out a lot, but the film never shows the emotional connection they had that would make Zach want to fight so hard for her.
Something most audiences do not know about the film is the fact that Anna Kendrick is actually in it, which is a surprise that it was kept under wraps. Her role in the film feels like an afterthought, as she plays a very shallow plot device. Her valley girl accent and cluelessness is fun to see at first, but it becomes apparent that her character is just there to help wrap up the story. This is a shame, especially since she was so good in Up in the Air and more recently Happy Christmas.
Even more bothersome is the fact that throughout Life After Beth’s running time, the film is just kind of dull. The actors are trying for sure, but everything as far as direction and writing in Jeff Baena’s first effort just kind of simmers. It even takes the film a good thirty minutes just to get going, and for a movie that is under 90 minutes long, that is a big chunk of time to waste on nothing. This dull nature as led to me already starting to forget the film even though I viewed it only a few nights ago.
Baena’s script also lacks much variety. The joke of Aubrey Plaza being a zombie is funny, along with her parents reacting in a crazy way. Once that initial joke is shown over and over again, it seems like there is very little under the surface here aside from that comedic concept. It leads to the film being repetitive, and adds to the dull nature.
Life After Beth, despite the effort from its talented cast, just kind of simmers. This zom-com flick is not aggressively terrible in anyway, but just ends up feeling like an exercise in wasted potential, with the end result being a unfocused and messy effort lacking in much heart.