Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Life After Beth": Comedy Dead On Arrival

Now Available On DVD and Blu-Ray

Life After Beth is a somewhat clever title for a comedy about zombies… and that’s about where the creativity and laughter stops.  This film is such a non-starter; it plays out its primary joke about how dating a zombie would be weird in an awkwardly unfunny manner, then tries to supplement its lack of comedy with weirdness that it mistakes for comedy, and tops it all off with an incredibly forced metaphor for losing a loved one wrapped in a sexist clingy-girlfriend trope.  This film is a mess, and a pain to sit through.

Zach’s girlfriend Beth (played by a woahfully underutilized Aubrey Plaza) has just died from a snakebite while hiking alone in the woods.  After getting close to Beth’s parents, Zach is unexpectedly shut out from their lives, and while investigating why, Zach discovers that Beth has come back to life, though she has a few quirks now.  She has short-term memory problems and is becoming increasingly more violent.  Zach must now figure out how to distance himself from a girlfriend who is clearly still dead and zombifying right before his eyes, while trying to discover what is bringing other people back to life as well.

This premise has some potential, but the execution is so flat and (pardon the pun) lifeless.  Between the rapid cuts, cluttered and shouted line delivery, and just plain lack of funny dialogue, the film breaks every rule of comedy, yet consistently pauses in its hectic pacing just long enough to allow its audience’s non-existent laughter.  Some of its jokes don’t even make sense, like the fact that zombies all like attics and smooth jazz for some reason.  There’s no basis for it; it’s just thrown in to be quirky and weird, but it’s not funny.  And let’s not forget an incredibly offensive scene where an attempted rape is played up for laughs, operating on the theory that Beth raping Zach is some sort of wacky role reversal.  Quite frankly, that’s just sick.

But wait, there’s more!  This film has the gall to try to be artsy and about something.  The final scene of the film features Zach moving on, trying to flirt with another survivor of their momentary zombie apocalypse.  And that’s when it all comes together that this whole trying experience was meant to be a metaphor for the loss of a loved one, and how leaving them in the past is harder than we’d like.  If I may make a comment directly to director and writer Jeff Baena: If you are going to make a serious observation about the human condition after the loss of a loved one, DON’T TREAT THE SUBJECT MATTER WITH EXTREME LEVITY BY MAKING AN UNFUNNY COMEDY!  Seriously, the message comes across as forced, just to appeal to festival circuit goers, when really the film doesn’t have anything profound to say on the matter.  Yeah, losing a loved one is hard; end of message.

Life After Beth is one of the worst films I’ve seen this year.  There’s potential for the premise and with Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, and Molly Shannon as part of the cast, there was potential for genuine comedy gold here.  Unfortunately, it’s a comedy that isn’t funny and is downright offensive in some scenes, and it pretends to be a work of high art when it’s really just the hack work of a first-time director.  Leave this one buried, folks.

Zombies.  Played out?  Sick of them?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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