Let’s not call Life After Beth a zom-com; that would be too easy. Sure there are undead teens lurking around, but writer/director Jeff Baena’s debut just isn’t all that funny. We have gotten the point that “zomibification” is a social allegory and somehow it still feels relevant today despite countless derivative entries into the sub-genre. Jeff Baena’s rendition isn’t a novel concept by any stretch and he doesn’t really make much of an effort to capitalize on cultural aspects instead he files for creative bankruptcy with a boorish plot.
Approaching the film’s high-concept with a small scale works initially with Dane DeHaan playing an emotionally distraught teen named Zach who is mourning the loss of his girlfriend Beth, (played in a give it all you got performance by Aubrey Plaza) then Baena loses his bearings when the film get’s larger in scale and everything unravels from that point. Initially Life After Beth seems to be a platform to talk about the early stages of grief. DeHaan is seen wrapping a rainbow scarf that once belonged to his beloved around his all black attire. It’s eluded to that she tried to break up with him shortly before she succumbed to her injuries sustained by a “snake bite.”
Beth suddenly reappears and this is where things get interesting for a short while. Zach’s state of depression suddenly turns to hopefulness after he sees a resurrected Beth at her house. Her father (played by John C. Reilly) is blind to Beth’s erratic behavior; which he tries to hide from the general public and his daughter. Most of this behavior appears to be a classic case of teenage hormones running rampant with Zach welcoming them at every opportunity. He even pours his heart out with a melodramatic song he wrote by a pier which causes Beth to go into a frenzy of flailing limbs and several choice words for the broken-hearted crooner. Baena does explore the ramifications of being a love-sick teen in the midst of an unrequited relationship which certainly is not a novel concept, but it does have a bit of intrigue when somebody’s skin is rotting off their bones. Baena simply doesn’t progress this idea any further and instead swaps it out for a plot that has the entire city involved in a zombie apocalypse (yawns) which pretty much goes the way of the dodo.
Lazy humor and characters that aren’t fully realized is the theme of the film’s intrigue which features comedic actors (Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick and Jim O’ Heir) in addition to Plaza and Reilly leaves all these character actors hung out to dry with dingy material. The underutilized cast is a perfect representation of the untapped potential Baena and Co. had on their hands. Sure, the film had a skeleton like structure to put some blood and guts on, but not enough to fill any zombie’s appetite for destruction.
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