MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Life After Beth’ Replaces Brains With Mediocrity

Film: Life After Beth
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza
Directed by: Jeff Baena

Mixing genres can be a tumultuous task in film making today. In Life After Beth, writer/director Jeff Baena tries to raise the romantic drama genre from the grave whilst spinning a hilarious tale about zombie love. Unfortunately, all the film compiles into is an amalgam of wasted comedic talent that can’t seem to unearth the most worthwhile qualities from separate genres. Not to mention that this little zombie apocalypse setting that Baena produces is minimalistic and leaves a lot up to interpretation.

Life After Beth picks up the grief-stricken Zach Orfman (Dane Dehaan) after his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) mysteriously dies. Through this grief, Zach forms a strong bond with Beth’s dad, Maury (John C. Reilly) and mother, Geenie (Molly Shannon). Zach goes over to the Slocum household one day after Maury dodges his phone calls to find that Beth is alive! As Beth and Zach reunite, he starts to realize that something is amiss. Beth now has the hunger for flesh and is super-powered. Zach must find out what to do, as the last thing he wants is to lose his beloved, again.

Aubrey Plaza, the doe-eyed and deadpan actress from Parks and Recreations, plays Beth as if she was a zombie that has a thirst for love instead of flesh (even though that is her primal instinct as a zombie). She smothers Zach with affection and the moment that he asks for space, she retaliates. This would be a great characterization to follow through on if she were to be in most of the movie, but alas, that is not the case. We don’t get any insight into Zach and Beth’s relationship pre-zombie and we don’t get any while she’s undead.

This is where Plaza’s immense comedic talents come in handy. When she doesn’t get injured after being run over by a car and continues to get pissed off at Zach because he’s talking to another girl, we laugh. The tread marks on her dress cater hilariously to her over-protective sounding utterance of “Zach, who’s this girl?” Life After Beth’s greatest strength is in these short and un-sustained, somewhat physical comedic moments that feel improvised much like the work done on Saturday Night Live.

Mixing genres is where Life After Beth comes off earnest but ultimately underwhelms. If the film wanted to be a romantic drama, it should have developed an indelible relationship between the main characters. Don’t pander off into comedic tropes to just get a laugh. If the film wanted to be a zombie comedy, it should have created a small little universe in which it would be funny to watch the zombie apocalypse carry out. Don’t fall into the belief that every viewer knows what the zombie apocalypse is like; therefore you don’t have to develop it all that much. Yes, people shoot zombies in this movie. That shouldn’t be the point though if in the first 30 minutes you are focusing on a boy coping with losing the love of his life.

Even John C. Reilly, a man with tremendous talent in the field of comedy, is reduced to a dramatically subdued father role. Molly Shannon also does the best with the material that she is given. Watching her in shock from getting a couple of her fingers bitten off was funny as she played it off like it didn’t faze her. Every time she used her low-volume and somewhat raspy voice from her SNL skits, she induces chuckles. Dehaan, who has been incredibly misused in other films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, plays the role of a haplessly loving teenager to a T. It’s too bad that his character doesn’t go any further than that as most of his motivations are boiled down to reactions to Beth’s menace.

The last glimmer of hope to come from this already misused premise came from the idea of watching these people, who live in some kind of Jewish suburbia, try to survive a zombie outbreak. Comedian Paul Reiser, who plays Zach’s father, is the embodiment of the neurotic Jewish father archetype to comedic chagrin. How he only cares about food and forcing Zach into a relationship with Erica Wexler (Anna Kendrick) is hilarious and ofttimes life reflecting unto art in my case. Of course, Zach’s father knows Erica through his wife’s yoga class, further enveloping the story in an awkward Hebrew community (it’s okay, I grew up in a Jewish family. I know these things.)

If Life After Beth were to be a living (no pun intended) and breathing zombie, it would be that absent-minded and toothless undead individual that can’t bite into what’s really important in life.


Review written by Sam Cohen ()

Sam Cohen
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