Life After Beth is a film that very much feels as if it wants to have its cake and eat it. Or, perhaps, replace cake with brains. It will end up tagged as yet another zom-rom-com when it doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with others of that ilk. Despite the superficial similarities, this is a very different beast.
Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies after being bitten by a snake while hiking alone. Her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) are, of course, devastated, as is her boyfriend, Zach (Dane DeHaan). That emotional devastation turns to confusion when Beth returns, blissfully unaware of how dead she just was. Trying to keep it a secret from everyone, her parents want to make the most of the situation without doing anything that might lose her again. Zach feels the same way, but also keeps wondering just how this happened and what exactly Beth IS now. Meanwhile, other people are returning from the grave. They seem quite harmless, but maybe they’re just not hungry enough yet.
Written and directed by Jeff Baena, there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout Life After Beth. It’s not, however, a comedy to keep you laughing all the way throughout. Instead, Baena focuses on the damage that can stem from selfishness. He looks at what would happen if people had a chance to wipe away their own sense of regret, perhaps at great personal risk. Unfortunately, he risks alienating sections of the viewing audience with the details that he includes – the zombies can become super strong, they’re calmed down by swing jazz – and the film is a hard one to pin down, in terms of just who will enjoy it the most. I guess those who loved I Heart Huckabees (the previous movie that Baena co-wrote) will enjoy the ideas being mused over here, but that depends on whether or not they decide to try out “a zombie movie”.
DeHaan and Plaza are great leads, with the former remaining one of the best young stars around at the moment and the latter getting her teeth into a role, no pun intended, that allows her to move from sweetness and light to confused rage. Reilly and Shannon are both very enjoyable as the parents trying to keep their resurrected daughter safe in their home, Matthew Gray Gubler is hilarious in almost every scene he has, Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines are both very good as Zach’s parents, and Anna Kendrick even pops up for a little while.
I enjoyed Life After Beth, it’s hard not to have fun with that cast and a number of the moments that build the comedy, but it’s a shame that it seemed so unfocused and slapdash (a number of the more interesting ideas aren’t explored further). I’d still hesitantly recommend it to comedy fans who can also tolerate a zombie or two in their movies.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JEFF BAENA
STARS: AUBREY PLAZA, DANE DEHAAN, JOHN C. REILLY, ANNA KENDRICK, MATTHEW GRAY GUBLER, MOLLY SHANNON, PAUL REISER, CHERYL HINES
RUNTIME: 91 MINS APPROX