Review – EIFF 2014 – Life After Beth

Life After Beth

Dir: Jeff Baena

Beth is dead. She was killed by a snake-bite while out hiking. Her boyfriend, Zach, is devastated. He starts to spend more time with her parents, but is perturbed when they abruptly shut him out of the house. Mad with grief, he sneaks around Beth’s old house, and spots someone he thought he’d never see again: Beth, alive and well, just as she always was. She can’t remember dying, or digging herself out of her grave, but is happy to resume her relationship with Zach. Zach is both delighted to see her again, and kind of terrified she might eat him, but the happy couple are reunited and nothing could possibly go wrong, even though Beth’s sudden aggressive turns are becoming difficult to deal with, and the dead are rising from the grave all over town.

Yes, it’s a zombie comedy, but this is an odd beast. Director Jeff Baena co-wrote I Heart Huckabees with David O. Russell back in 2004, and his debut feature shares some of that movie’s dreamy unreality. It’s a rom-zom-com, and naturally can be compared to other movies that had fun with zombie genre tropes, but this movie is a much more subtle affair than the carefully crafted Shaun of the Dead or the ambition of Zombieland. The jokes here are never broadly telegraphed, with many of the best ones being throwaway lines that are absurdly strange because of the situation the characters have found themselves in. Tonally the film can be all over the place, but for the most part takes the shape of a screwball comedy, with some almost Python-esque silliness thrown in for good measure.

Dane DeHann is something of an up-and-comer at the moment, and is decent here as Zach, displaying bewilderment and uncertainty very well, although his comedy chops aren’t quite so honed as his supporting players. Aubrey Plaza as the titular Beth is a delight. It doesn’t really stretch her range, but it’s the part she was born to play, really; a sweet girl with a heart of gold, who is dead behind the eyes and literally rotten inside. Her character from Parks and Recreation would approve. John C Reilly and Molly Shannon are great as Beth’s bickering and blinkered parents. It’s not a typical broad comedy; it’s too strange and low-key for that, so it’s hard to tell how it will appeal to the typical zombie genre fan. It’s a lot of fun, though, and stuffed with understated and droll gags. It’s worth it for Mr Garry Marshall’s appearance alone (look him up, kids.)

****

 

Stuart Addison

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