PLOT: Zach’s (DeHaan) girlfriend Beth (Plaza) somehow leaves her grave days after she is pronounced dead from a snakebite.
WHO'S IT FOR? People who watch quirky, dark comedies with low expectations.
Released almost two months before teenagers lug around pillow cases to amass the same candy they did as costumed children, Life After Beth is a goth young love comedy with a statically adolescent mindset on a young relationship’s promise of forever. As much as its Halloween-y takes on first relationships might suggest, writer/director Jeff Baena’s film is not sharp enough to suggest a second level of awareness beyond a simple joke; instead it must play out as a wacky tale of a weird girlfriend, as inspired by the emotional fragility of young relationships but taken to the extreme.
Soon after Zach (Dane DeHaan) separates from his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza), she dies from a snakebite. Struggling with grief and wishing he hadn’t broken it off with her, he befriends Beth’s parents (played by John C. Reilly & Molly Shannon), until one day the parents themselves disappear. After snooping around, Zach finds out Beth’s parents have been in their house the whole time, and that they have been hiding a very-much-alive Beth, who doesn’t even remember dying.
The parents reunited with their daughter and Beth freely making out with her boyfriend in front of them, life does not resume so easily. Zach’s interest in taking Beth outside of the house are heavily discouraged by her parents, who seem to know something about Beth’s strange reappearance that he doesn’t. In his reckless young love ways, he sees this as an example of overly protective parents just not understanding, and nonetheless takes her back into the real world, with Beth’s condition progressively getting stranger and stranger.
Life After Beth is a film that is assembled from a certain comedienne’s list of Twitter followers, casting proves to be a problem with the film. One can imagine the interest Plaza must have had in such a wacky story, but her presentation of a mercurial non-dead girlfriend doesn’t come with much stability aside from playfulness. Her indie comedy last year The To-Do List provides a better reminder of her potential outside of career-bolstering “Parks & Recreation,” especially in regards to playing a character who is more than an impression, or a fun costume to wear.
As for DeHaan - he’s a good choice for a brooding young male lead .. in a different movie. Here, he takes this part so, so, so seriously that his punchline as a straight man is lost. DeHaan isn’t a comical actor and it shows, in a way that nearly threatens to take down the film’s already wobbly tone.
Members of Life After Beth’s surprising cast struggle to include a distinct flavor to a story driven by a weak concept. The closest to achieving a pulse is Reilly’s father character, who shows (with some of the same sincerity in his similar role in We Need to Talk About Kevin) a patriarch trying to have the last remaining bits of control over his daughter before she fully moves onto the next significant relationships in life, that of the personal partner.
Anna Kendrick is brought into the film in the second half as an old friend of Zach, with the intent of complicating the type of hellfire he must deal with from his already unhinged girlfriend. Aside from the matter that this semi-amusing triangle is only made in one scene, Kendrick’s classic Kendrick-ian performance of wafting naiveté provides disturbing second evidence that this is how the film actually views its female characters; that the script embraces images of love interests, whether they’re zombies or not, as coddled stereotypes, without a vital wink.
Baena keeps characters and weird occurrences to restrictive levels of dry quirk, without bolstering them with good editing beats, and makes a tedious faux-mystery out of the inevitable. Instead of owning up to the exact condition of Beth, even by cluing in the audience before the disoriented characters, Life After Beth harps on the jokes of confusion, of which neither DeHaan is fit enough to comically amplify, nor Plaza able to enliven.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10