From the co-writer of David O. Russell’s tumultuous production I Heart Huckabees comes Jeff Baena’s directorial debut Life After Beth. The film has drawn a heap of hype on the back of its cast – Aubrey Plaza, Jon C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Dane DeHaan, Anna Kendrick, Alia Shawkat, Jim O’Heir, Matthew Gray Gubler; this is basically the who’s who of tumblr gif reposts. Unfortunately the final product doesn’t live up to the following of people who’ve never seen it that it has already amassed; it’s a clunky, poorly-paced and somewhat directionless affair, even if it’s kind of fun along the way.
Life After Beth follows Zach (Dane DeHaan), a teenager who’s become increasingly melancholic after the death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) from a snakebite. Zach has cut himself off from the world, tormented by an argument he had with Beth immediately prior to her death. He starts to hang out with her parents, Maury and Geenie Slocum (Jon C. Reilly and Molly Shannon respectively), sharing in their grief, until one day they mysteriously cut him off. Put out by this, he goes to investigate, and catches a glimpse of Beth, alive and well, through their window. Gaining access to the house, he finds Beth alive and well with no memory of the prior weeks. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that this is not the Beth he once knew. She is prone to wild mood swings, and bouts of extreme strength, and has also developed a taste for human flesh. It also soon becomes apparent that she’s not the only one in this gated community who’s demonstrating these traits.
On the surface, Life After Beth looks like it should be a sure-fire indie hit; it has a great premise and a fantastic cast, and there’s substantial potential for the analysis of regret and coping with loss to be performed in an interesting fashion. The film is, however, weighed down by all of these aspects. The overall execution of the plot leaves something to be desired, the cast (for the most part) give underwhelming performances, and the film’s underlying themes and meaning lack subtlety. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the film is that the cause of the reanimation is left completely unexplained. I know this isn’t the point of the film but it smacks of lazy writing and a disregard for the intelligence of the audience (did Baena think we wouldn’t realise this was left totally unanswered?), which is a real shame because some of the jokes are really, really funny. The pacing is fine, but the actual movement between sequences, motifs, and plot points is clunky and does the film no favours. Visually, Life After Beth is quite pleasant, with a distinct glossy aesthetic that makes the film look professional, but it’s not enough to counteract all of the other areas in which this film was lacking. Luckily, in spite of all this, the film does not wear out its welcome; its 91 minute runtime is perfect with there’s enough movement crammed into it to prevent boredom.
It’s not all bad, the performances from Kendrick and Plaza should be praised, it’s not the best I’ve seen from them but they would have even stacked up well against everyone else’s performances if they were all giving their a-game. The score is pleasant, the underlying ideas are clever, and even though some of the more twee jokes don’t always hit the mark, most of the incidentals are kind of hilarious, especially the payoff involving the Slocum’s Haitian housekeeper.
Overall though, this isn’t enough to make Life After Beth a good movie, it just isn’t, no matter how much I wanted it to be. I’m sure those of you who were already interested in checking it out still will, but for everyone else I’d steer clear. It’s not offensively bad or anything there’s just so many more indie comedies more deserving of some attention and I can almost guarantee Life After Beth won’t blow you away or even give you anything more than a little bit of casual entertainment. I still look forward to checking out the next projects of most of the people involved here but unfortunately, Life After Beth just isn’t the indie comedy gem it should have been.