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'Life After Beth' With Aubrey Plaza Rambles Like A Zombie Shuffle
We love Aubrey Plaza. Love her. She’s brilliant with her deadpan humor in Parks and Recreation. In her latest film, Life After Beth, she just plays dead—more specifically, a zombie back from the hereafter—and Plaza shows an adeptness at physical comedy-performance, too. Unfortunately where the press notes describe Life After Beth as a “genre bending” zom-com, we beg to differ. Written and directed by Jeff Baena (in his feature directorial debut), the film just rambles along, unsure of what direction to take, and making Life After Beth seemingly way, way longer than its 89 minutes.
Zach (Dane DeHaan) is devastated when his high-school girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) dies after being bitten by a snake during a hike in the woods. (We had a really hard time buying the two actors as that young.) Their relationship was kind of on the skids right before she died, and Zach regrets a lot of things he said and did. He finds solace in hanging out with her parents (the brilliant John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon)—but they suddenly stop returning his calls. He eventually finds out their secret: Beth has miraculously been resurrected. Sure, she is a little...off...and doesn’t remember anything of the past few weeks (or why her flesh is rotting), but Zach and Beth’s parents don’t care.
All is right with the world—until it’s not. Beth is developing a nasty temper, a potty mouth (literally and olfactory) and a craving for brains. And she’s not the only one. For reasons unexplained, people are coming back from the dead in droves. Is it the end of times? A virus? Alien invasion? We’ll never know.
DeHaan is good as a despondent boyfriend, and his actions as well as her parents’ are understandable, to a point. They’re just happy that Beth’s come back to them, despite her changed nature. And while Zach and Beth’s make out scenes are a little icky, it fits with the original direction of the film. But instead of focusing on these relationships and their attempts to either hide Beth or integrate her into the world, Baena takes a Red Dawn turn at the end.
A group of fighting survivalists, which includes Zach’s gun-toting, gung-ho brother, played by a surprisingly hilarious Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds), go up against the zombie invaders. The scenes between DeHaan and Gubler are some of our favorites in the movie because they crackle with so much hate-love energy between the brothers.
Despite a strong supporting cast that includes the aforementioned actors as well as Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s parents and a small role for Anna Kendrick as his potential love interest and Plaza’s nemesis, the film flounders. Life After Beth can’t decide whether it wants to be a zombie love story like Warm Bodies or a comedy like Hot Fuzz. Baena’s attempts to tackle both in his first film fall short, with a wandering plot that leaves us wishing for so much more.
Life After Beth is in theaters today (Aug. 15).