Life After Beth
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon and Anna Kendrick
Directed by Jeff Baena
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
I’ve heard of dark comedies, but here’s a dim one.
It begins as a weepy death drama about a boy coping with the sudden demise of his girlfriend, then turns into zombie romance and eventually ends as a post-apocalyptic nightmarish comedy. And at no point does it elevate above dismal.
Life After Beth is a collection of wasted talent, vapid gags and awful dialogue. It doesn’t pass the Siskel Test, which asks if the film is more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch. Not only would a movie of John C. Reilly picking through a Cobb salad be more interesting, it would qualify as humanitarian aid in the wake of this turd of a movie.
We begin with Zach (Dane DeHaan) in the grocery store arguing with a clerk because the store doesn’t sell black napkins for funerals. The punchline of this scene is told flatly from the clerk: “Um, try a party store.” It’s all downhill from here. Zach is going to his girlfriend's funeral, where it takes half a dozen scenes to establish that the girlfriend is Beth (Aubrey Plaza) and she died from a snakebite while walking through the woods.
This is a hopeless lump of a movie, but for about three minutes it had potential when Zach starts hanging out with Beth’s parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon. Reilly, playing the awkward doofus, sits down with Zach to play chess and smoke pot, and they commiserate life without Beth. It’ll be OK, they tell each other. “I love you, man.” “I love you, too. Hang in there.” And then the scene ends and the movie implodes shortly after.
Beth, it turns out, is still alive and she’s essentially a zombie, though not a typical zombie. She doesn’t shamble or lunge, and her bites don’t create new zombies. She’s just alive and growing increasingly more unhinged. After first she’s just hyperactive and aggressively sexual, which catches Zach off-guard. But then she goes homicidal, tearing apart a lifeguard shack, building a mud hut in her attic, and letting a car roll over her chest. Anna Kendrick turns up for no other reason than to spare Plaza for more embarrassment.
The wheels essentially come off Life After Beth at this point. Plaza and DeHaan, so good in everything else they’ve ever been in, are paralyzed by a plot that makes no sense and dialogue that was randomly generated from third-grade book reports. Much of Plaza’s lines involve her blurting out incoherently and then pouncing on props on the set. There is no comedy here. Not a single chord. Not a whisper of a note.
As the horror continues, Zach and Beth bop around town and civilization crumbles as more of the dead rise from the grave. Eventually, Beth goes so crazy that Zach ties her to an oven that she promptly tears from the wall so she can walk through the woods until Zach does something that a producer should have done to this movie — he puts her out of her misery.
The movie is written and directed by Jeff Baena, who last worked on I Heart Huckabees, which explains a lot. He has directed an ugly movie, and a terrible one. But his movie has a great title. Life After Beth. It’s looking into the future, hopeful and optimistic. It reminds me of that moment right after I saw it, when everything felt new and pure, when Life After Beth was already far, far, far behind me.