Life After Beth (2014) – Review

Directed by Jeff  Baena
Written by Jeff Baena
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon
A young man’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not the way he remembered her.

Oooohhh right, now I get it. Life After Beth. Right. Okay. Hmm. Well, whatever…
Truth is, I had no idea what this was about until I actually decided to eventually get around to reviewing it. I knew it had Aubrey Plaza in it (thumbs up) and Dane DeHaan (thumbs down, no offence, just not my favourite weedy looking nobody that just got lucky, in my opinion, but there y’go). I mean, just how terrible could it be? Safety Not Guaranteed was my favourite movie of the whole of 2012, so it surely couldn’t that dreadful. Could it?
So, trying to keep the memories of Pet Sematary to the back of my eager and mostly curious mind, I delved in, only really looking forward to the bits with the lovely Aubrey Plaza in it. Just as with anything that Zoe Kazan appears in, I’ll normally be there, at the front of the queue, probably fidgeting, hands firmly in pockets, with nervous anticipation. Okay, so I wasn’t exactly at the front of the queue here, but you get the general idea. Some films I will watch purely because someone I really wouldn’t mind half an hour (alright, not that long) in a quiet room with and no cameras to witness it is in it. I mean, really, is there any other reason for watching Sin City 2 than to be able to gawp longingly and helplessly at Eva Green?  There. I’ve said it. You may shoot me now, everlasting judge of shallow movie criticism. I submit to your greater and justly brow-furrowing, finger-pointing power of abstinence.
Dubiously dubbed a zom-rom-com (sigh, think Shaun of the Dead if you really need a thematic comparison), this is the story of two young lovers, Beth (Plaza) and Zach (DeHaan) who are separated by death, but not for very long, re-united in a way that you may at first find less than likely. 
Oooh, what fun we can have with this, Jeff Baena must have thought, when nurturing this idea through its difficult period to inception as a fully fledged script. It is at this point, if we’re honest, that most of us writers would stop for a moment and wonder if this is really a viable idea, before quietly deleting the first paragraph, turning off Microsoft Word, and gently closing the lid on the laptop for the evening, in favour of a glass of the fruity red stuff.
But no, to his credit Baena persevered and pursued this story to its rather (un)natural conclusion. Would you believe it, the young woman everyone thought had died, well, hadn’t, it appears. And then again, maybe she had and it’s just that no one is letting on. Beth is home and everything, for the moment it seems, is rosy once more.
Despite his varying amounts of general unlikeableness, Dane DeHaan  is well cast as the needy and lost soul, grieving initially for the love of his life (aren’t they all at that age?) until she re-appears. Personally, I have trouble getting on board with most of DeHaan’s output so far and whilst this is a significant improvement, I still can’t honestly say I’m anything like a fan. I can’t abide the emo when paraded in front of me, like the misunderstood sufferer of life itself, but DeHaan seems to offer this in almost every character he portrays. Just once, I’d like to see him riding a Harley, toting an Uzi and taking Megan Fox firmly from behind. That’s just not going to happen though, is it? He’s just not the type and he’s woefully short of that kind of range.

After a somewhat perplexing and sometimes yawn-inducing first act, spent mostly following Zach around as he mopes over his lost love, the film does kick into gear in the second act with Beth’s return and this allows the audience the opportunity to appreciate Plaza’s skills as a performer of many guises. Without her, this may have been a very different movie. I mean, we could have had Jennifer’s Body all over again, and that would simply never do, not with someone of Plaza’s abilities helming the show here.

A large part of the films’ humour comes in the form of the incredulity at the changes Beth experiences and the reaction Zach displays to them. As their world begins to crumble, this does provide the opportunity for some very funny moments, allowing Plaza to go practically off the grid, mentally, with the rest of the cast trying to play catch up with events as they progress. To its credit, Baena does a good job ensuring that this never quite reaches farce, which it could easily have done, had he not kept tight grip on the performances and pace, as the rest of the dead start to get up and walk around, in a potential zombie apocalypse.

Overall, a very enjoyable, very watchable project, highlighting particularly the talents of Plaza. DeHaan is much better here than most of his career thus far and with the support from the likes of John C Reilly, Molly Shannon and Anna Kendrick, you’re pretty much assured of good, if not exactly great, time. Oh, and by the way, if you like smooth jazz, you’re in for a treat!

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