I finally got around to watching Life After Beth ,a zombie “comedy” starring Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, A Cure For Wellness), and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza. The movie, written and directed by Jeff Baena concerns the return from the dead of Beth, Zach’s girlfriend, and the gradual deterioration of things both inside and outside both character’s families. Doesn’t sound like a comedy, right?
This is an odd duck of a movie – not that it’s particularly confusing, innovative, or funny, but it does somehow manage to be a decent blend of various elements. My opinions about zombie movies have been noted before, so I won’t bother rehashing, but now I feel as if I have to redfine my dislike of them, after mostly liking Train To Busan and really enjoying The Girl With All The Gifts. In an attempt to do so, I suppose my actual dislike probably just extends to plot-driven generic zombie movies, and those played strictly for laffs. The vast proliferation of Kindle-published zombie fiction that all plays like The Walking Dead is another example of do-nothing story. Life After Beth plays something like a mashup between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Maggie and the mockumentary sitcom style made popular by The Office, and it mostly worked for me. There are no huge laughs for something billed as a “comedy”, rather, there are moments of humour spread throughout that are small and character driven, not broad-based.
The main reason I watched this was because of Dane DeHaan, whom I’m a fan of from seeing him in Chronicle (though I remembered him from a memorable guest spot as a drug addicted murder suspect in the SVU episode “Lunacy”). Chronicle happens to be my favourite movie about super powers, trumping any Marvel or DC movie (ok, not so hard when the DC movies are added in), and he was my main choice to replace Tobey Maquire in the rebooted Spider Man franchise. Whether his choice of role is reflective of his persona or not, DeHaan’s gravitation toward darker, edgier characters would have produced a very different kind of Spider Man to Andrew Garfield’s – it was a weird turn of events then, that DeHaan was cast as Harry Osborne in the second and final movie in the reboot series, where he succumbed to the overplotting/underwriting nightmare combo of Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (who somehow combine to produce the same rubbish that Damon Lindelof and Simon Kinberg can do all by themselves), along with Jeff Pinkner. In Life After Beth, DeHaan plays the role of Zach completely straight, as if the movie was a horror drama, and I liked his performance a lot. While the other actors kinda do the same, their parts are mostly infused with an absurdist touch, seemingly oblivious to the world outside their doors and what’s happening within them. As Zach, DeHaan is able to bring a number of emotions to the table – grief, rage, love – that the other characters are not imbued with, and is easily identified as the breakout character. The supporting roles are filled by a decent cast of TV and indie veterans that include, in descending order of script hierarchy, John C Reilly, Matthew Gray Gubler, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Heinz, Paul Reiser, and Garry Marshall. Anna Kendrick (The Accountant) appears in a small, but pivotal, role in the second half of the movie too, but the character seems lower than her paygrade. In terms of character, though, at the time of shooting both DeHaan and Plaza were in their late 20s, and look to be playing characters in their mid 20s – I get that Millenials are cool for staying at the family home to keep the teen years rollin, but I found myself wondering why in this movie, though there’s no depth in the script to allow for this, The situation is just what it is.
Aubrey Plaza essentially plays a version of other characters she has appeared as, and while I like her deadpan delivery, and how perfect it is for this movie, she doesn’t strike me as someone who’s going to produce work of any great depth. Hard to say, though – an actor only needs that one perfect role to hit critical mass. Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea is a great example of that. This isn’t to say Plaza is not good as Beth – she’s great here, and is given a chance to evolve into a rage-fuelled zombie in the latter parts of the movie.
Life After Beth wasn’t received well in its 2014 release, but having not read any of the reviews (I tend to look at ratings, not actual reviews) I think the average fair-to-middling reception is reasonable. The movie would have been much, much stronger if the one flat-out comedic role (Zach’s brother Kyle, played by Gubler) had been excised from the script. It’s probably just me, but it seems like the asshole brother in ANY movie seems to be named Kyle, and here is no exception – Zach is just a childlike asshole, generically written and performed. The character is a weak gun-nut, employed as a security guard in the affluent community where the action takes place, and I can’t figure out why he was included in the first place. Nothing the character does really has any impact on the proceedings – in fact, his sole purpose in the movie seems to be limited to handing Zach an important item at the climax of Act 2. The character brings down the IQ value of each scene he’s in.
Life After Beth is not worthy of hatred, nor high praise. As a companion piece to Shaun of the Dead, I found it a successful blend of horror and comedy, although the latter is by far the better of the two. I suspect most people who watch this are going to come out with a meh reaction, rather than screaming for an hour and half of their life back.
© Andrew Hope, 2017