by: S. Scott Stanikmas
If you’ve read some of my past columns you may have come to learn that I’m a sucker for a good zombie movie or TV show. Hell, I’ll even sit through a bad one if it’s cheesy enough to be a good laugh-fest. What you might not have gleaned is that I’m also a fan of the romantic comedy genre. So when I saw the premise for Life After Beth (Boy loves girl. Girl dies. Boy is sad. Girl comes back from the dead. Hilarity ensues.) I thought “Hey, this is right up my alley.”
I really wanted to like this. It had a decent cast with Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza starring and a slew of talented character actors rounding out the supporting crew. The script was alright and the cinematography was adequate. While it wasn’t a horrible movie it was a movie that seemed to have trouble finding its footing while suffering from a minor case of miscasting.
As the film starts we see the titular Beth (Plaza) hiking through the mountains. All of a sudden we cut to a post funeral gathering at which point we learn that Beth has died. Her boyfriend Zach (DeHaan) seems to be an inconsolable wreck. He spends a lot of time with Beth’s parents Maury and Geenie, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, trying to make sense of the last days he spent with her and trying to come to terms with all the things he never got to say to her. One day when he goes to Beth’s house her parents just don’t answer the door. After calling and leaving messages that go unanswered Zach needs to know why they won’t talk to him. It seems as though they have a visitor…and Beth may not be as dead as everyone once thought.
Beth’s parents are thrilled to have their little girl back, but Zach is a little more skeptical about just how much of a blessing this may be. Noticing little quirks in her behavior, like a slight bit of memory loss for the time leading up to her death, super strength, and the fact that she can have a car run over her and she still seems perfectly fine, Zach thinks it may be time to tell Beth the truth about her current “situation.” But that opens up a whole new set of problems between Zach and Beth’s parents. And Beth doesn’t seem to take the news that well either.
Like I said earlier I really wanted to like this movie. It just seemed to have trouble getting out of first-gear, so to speak. The pacing was a little wonky. The first thirty minutes seemed to crawl by and the last hour almost seemed like it was overflowing with ideas. This would probably have worked better as a short film or as part of an anthology and not as a feature length presentation.
While the acting was fine I think better choices for some of the roles could have been made. Dane DeHaan is a fine actor but not as a mopey protagonist. He has the look of a villain. Even when he smiles and tries to be sincere it seems shady and evil. Aubrey Plaza was serviceable. She did a good job slowly descending into full blown zombie-hood, but I kept getting the feeling that something was missing. Reilly and Shannon were okay. Reilly was all over the place character-wise and Shannon’s quirky brand of flaky seemed a little out of place. I have to give credit to Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick for taking what minimal screen time they had and owning every second of it. The only cast member I just did not like at all was Cheryl Hines, She played Zach’s overbearing and annoying mother to perfection so much so that I couldn’t stand to see her. She was shrill and little heartless and I loathed seeing her character.
While writer/director Jeff Baena puts forth a solid effort it still fell short. While not a complete failure it just wasn’t a classic of the mash up zom-rom-com genre like Shaun of the Dead was. It was a fun little movie that had a few good laughs here and there. But it’s also the kind of movie that’s easily forgettable a few days later. This is the kind of movie you catch on a lazy afternoon if there’s nothing else on. Otherwise, there’s always Shaun of the Dead.