Friday, 8 August 2014
Life After Beth
Life After Beth
Jeff Baena // 2014 // 91 mins
When his failing relationship is abruptly ended by the death of his girlfriend Beth, a grieving Zach finds himself filled with regrets as he tries to adjust to life without her. He finds comfort in spending time with Beth's parents, but when they stop returning his calls or answering the door to him Zach becomes suspicious of what they could be hiding from him, suspicions that are confirmed when he catches a brief glimpse of Beth walking through the house. Having dug her way out of her own grave Beth has no recollection of what has happened and resumes the life of a lovesick teenage girl, while Zach is thrilled to have a second chance with his love it isn't long before Beth starts exhibiting strange and aggressive behaviour.
Jeff Baena's zom-rom-com is a film that captures elements of it's three individual genres well enough but fails to balance them as perfectly as the film needs in order to truly succeed. Life After Beth is certainly a fresh take on the zombie film and Baena's version of how the undead come to be is unique and fun to witness, but these individual successes don't come together to make an equally successful whole. Zach's grief feels honest and real, the empty longing he suffers is captured brilliantly by both Baena's script and the talent of Dane DeHaan, the actor inhabits Zach so fully that he is able to create a strong connection with the viewer that anchors our investment throughout the films numerous unexpected twists and turns. Though we never see the relationship Zach and Beth shared when she was alive (the first time), DeHaan's chemistry with co-star Aubrey Plaza makes their initial bond after her return sweet and enjoyable. It is once Beth begins exhibiting more traditional zombie-like behaviour that the dynamic between the pair really excels though, and a clever role reversal see's Zach as the submissive, weaker partner to Beth's aggressive and violent outbursts; a depiction that lightly touches on the rarely explored notion of domestic violence against men.
Though there is a darkly comedic strand that runs constantly through the film, this comedy is never exploited for it's full potential. Plaza is the primary subject of the films humour and is the most successful at bringing out the comedy of the script. Her signature deadpan delivery helps to sell the dazed, unaware state that Beth is in when she first returns, and when she is allowed to let go and enter the full, enraged zombie-mode she provides some truly hilarious physical comedy that greatly elevates the films lesser second act. Unfortunately Beth very often veers towards being too whiny and childish of a character, and this prevents us from investing or caring too much about her like we do with Zach, but Plaza is consistently excellent in spite of the scripts occasional falterings. When the story tries to enter the traditional zombie-horror territory in the films climax it ends up feeling too small-scale and lacklustre to really be worth taking precedence over Zach and Beth's story; the conclusion to which is a brave one, yet feels rushed and loses much of it's impact to the madness of what is happening in the story outside of their relationship.
All of Life After Beth's successes are the result of the fantastic cast that has been assembled here. DeHaan and Plaza are both equally wonderful and it is a shame that Baena felt the need to expand the story beyond what could have been an intimate and subversive romance. The likes of John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Anna Kendrick, Cheryl Hines and Matthew Grey Gubler all lend great support and are each given their chance to shine and fair share of one-liners, with Molly Shannon in particular stealing her own respective scene towards the films climax. The problem is just that for all of it's clever ideas and unique elements, Life After Beth struggles with an identity crisis that prevents it from being the perfect combination of romance, comedy and zombies that it should be. Baena achieves each of these elements individually, but fails in bringing them together to form an even, balanced whole. It does contain the single best use of smooth jazz music in a film ever though.