Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Quick Cut Review: "Life After Beth"


Directed by: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane Dehaan, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour 31 minutes  
Release Date: August 15, 2014


Last year’s Warm Bodies was the perfect example of a great idea and horrible execution. The number one problem with Warm Bodies (amongst many) was that it just wasn’t a good zombie movie. It was a decent enough romance and an alright comedy, but when your entire premise is based on zombies you better get the zombie part right. Fast forward a year later and we have Life After Beth, another attempt at pairing a romantic comedy with the zombie genre, but unlike that other festering carcass this one has plenty of bite with to go along with its heart. With zombie movies are a dime a dozen now days there are greater expectations for new films introduced into the genre and with greater expectations comes grave disappointments. Life After Beth meets those expectations head on and easily establishes itself as the premiere zom com. Read the full review after the break.
Life After Beth is as much a zombie movie as it is a romance and that is why it succeeds. But where it scores even bigger is in all the little details and its two lead actors turning in some inspired comedic and genuinely heartfelt work. At its core though the film is a love story, but unlike most love stories this one starts out with the girl already dead. That girl is Beth (Aubrey Plaza) and she died of a snake bite while hiking one morning by herself. Her boyfriend Zach (Dane Dehaan) isn’t taking her passing too well and has even resorted to spending most of his free time at Beth’s parents house. He has made a particular bond with her father (John C. Reilly) as the two of them both lament their final moments with her, but little do they know that soon they will have a chance to make amends when out of the blue Beth shows up….uh, mostly alive and…sort of well.


The chemistry between Dehaan and Plaza is potent with the both of them throwing themselves into their roles with abandon. Where the true magic lies is in how the two feed off one another’s energy which is especially true for Plaza who has the deceivingly difficult task of showing her mental decay over a number of different stages that has her going from fully aware to confused to scared and ultimately into a full on zombie all the time still retaining Beth’s outgoing personality which only gets funnier the more she transforms into a flesh eating monster. 

Dehaan is to be praised as well because like any comedic duo there has to be a straight man and he has the thankless task of sitting back while Plaza eats the scenery (sometimes literally). But he makes the most of a difficult situation and steals back some of his scenes with some fantastic reactions and physical bits of comedy that could only be possibly when working with another actor like Plaza who is so willing to give a little back sometimes.


It is important to remember though that this is a REAL zombie movie with a dash of romance and a heaping spoonful of comedy thrown in. Much like the king of the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, when its time to be a zombie movie it is unflinching in its approach. This is where Warm Bodies failed, it just wasn't willing to go full on zombie and as a result it felt like the filmmakers wanted to use the popular horror genre but not actually be beholden to it. Life After Beth doesn't feel beholden either as it relishes in its blood, guts and all manner of carnage that cover the streets as Beth (and some other surprising resurrections) turn the town inside out which leads to a full blown zombie apocalypse by the end of it all.



But what holds the entire thing together is the love story that remains the central theme of the film, even when Beth looks like she is ready to eat Zach it is never malicious because we know deep down that she loves him and he loves her. Nothing tests true love more than staying with the one you love even when they are dead, decaying, impaled or on fire. Life After Beth is proof that zombies, romance and comedy can work together just so long as the zombies are treated with the respect they deserve and allowed to go into their attics when they want.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Led by a showstopping performance by Aubrey Plaza, Life After Beth succeeds despite tackling a mixed genre that almost seems doomed to failure. But thanks to a great cast (including a few surprise cameos) and script, it manages to breathe life into the stale rom com genre while also showing a surprising amount of love to the zombie genre at the same time. This is proof positive that you can have your heart and eat it too.

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