[This review originally appeared as part of our Sundance Film Festival 2014 coverage. It is being re-posted to coincide with the film’s theatrical release.]
Life After Beth
Director: Jeff Baena
Release Date: January 19, 2014 (Sundance)
Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy, especially if the circumstances are tragic. However, given a second chance at life, anybody would accept the situation, right? In Life After Beth, writer/director Jeff Baena uses a zombie uprising as the premise behind is romantic comedy about Zach (Kill Your Darling‘s Dane DeHaan) and Beth (The To Do List‘s Aubrey Plaza) as a young couple torn apart following the latter’s unfortunate passing. Will a promise to make things better the second time be enough to overlook the elephant in the room concerning Beth’s return?
After bonding with his ex-girlfriend’s father, Murray (John C. Reilly), Zach slowly begins his journey to recovery. For reasons never explicitly explained, Beth seemingly returns from the dead. With a new lease on love, Zach does everything in his power to ensure the relationship goes smoothly. However, as more time after Beth’s return passes, she begins to act out, coinciding with the emergence of more dead people.
Simply put, Life After Beth is an allegory for moving on after the end of a relationship. Again, while it’s never explained why Beth’s (and the rest of the dearly departed’s) return is feasible, I think there’s an underlying connection to his “connection” to her. In a minor subplot (which, in retrospect, is perhaps the most important of plot turns), an old friend of Zach’s, Erica (Anna Kendrick), appears. As they catch up, Beth’s condition worsens as she flips between being Zach dependent (relationship-wise) and Zach dependent (“zombie eat brains”-wise). It’s interesting subtext, but unfortunately, not enough to hold the rest of the film up.
DeHaan is one of the most talented up and coming actors of this generation, yet his talents are never fully realized in Life After Beth. The film could have been the perfect breeding ground to illustrate his comedy (as he’s mostly known for his dramatic roles), but it never comes to fruition. In contrast, Plaza fits well into the film’s mold, easily playing both girlfriend and zombie with her patented deadpan, slacker-esque tone. The entirety of the film, however, is low on laughs. Oftentimes, it grasps for low hanging fruit or easy jokes that just aren’t all that funny.