Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead, and her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is all torn up about it. Sure they were having troubles and it looked like they might be heading for a split, but now that she’s gone — as in gone gone — he’s finding it difficult to think about anything else as he sinks into his pit of despair. Hoping for company with like-minded people he takes to spending time with Beth’s equally distraught parents, but just a few days later they shut him out of their lives. Distraught and driven for similarly bereft companionship he heads to their house only to glimpse something odd through a window.

Beth is still alive.

Kind of.

She’s returned from the dead, and overcome with joyful confusion her parents are hiding her from the world. Beth’s memory isn’t all that great — she’s really stressed about a test she has tomorrow and has no idea that she’s dead — but Zach isn’t bout to turn his back on this second chance at a struggling relationship. Every couple hits some bumps in the road right? He soon discovers though that some love stories are better off dead.

Zach goes against Beth’s parent’s wishes and sneaks her out past dark for a late night date, but the first signs that maybe this isn’t meant to be begin cropping up immediately. Beth gets irritable, angry and very, very strong. Worse, she reveals an intense desire to listen to smooth jazz. Saying goodbye is never easy, but when another girl (Anna Kendrick) — a living girl — shows interest he finds the courage to stand up to Beth’s carnivorous affections. Things go downhill from there.

Life After Beth is a clever film, from its title to its narrative that doubles as a metaphor for finding the strength to walk away from a relationship that just can’t be saved, and its take on the zombie comedy offers some fresh angles. Most entries in the subgenre tamp down the gory flesh-eating, but this one avoids it all together. It’s oddly absent, especially in the third act, but the film was never about people eating people.

Instead the movie shows creative power in DeHaan’s character and performance as he finds himself in a position many of us have experienced in our own lives. No, not having sex with a dead person. He has the slowly dawning realization that the relationship he’s been fighting so hard for, the one that never quite feels right but that he knows in his heart can be fixed — that relationship needs to die. The hardest part isn’t saying goodbye, it’s knowing when to say it.

Not to imply this is some kind of drippy drama of course, as it’s actually a spry and fun comedy with a healthy amount of laughs. The script by director Jeff Baena offers a sharply observed setup before settling into some plot mechanics that don’t quite gel, but he and his cast have fun along the way. It would be difficult not to with a roster that includes the trio already mentioned as well as John C. Reilly, Matthew Gray Gubler, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser and more.

Life After Beth is a fun little tale of youthful romance gone awry, and the cast alone gives reason to watch. It could have benefited from more meat on its narrative bones, but as it stands this is a funny and often creative entry in the zom-com subgenre. Watch it with someone you love. Or at least with someone you plan on eating.

The Upside: Dane DeHaan; fantastic supporting cast; some good laughs; somewhat refreshing take on zombie comedy

The Downside: Little depth; narrative beyond the metaphor feels slight; should be funnier with this cast

On the Side: Jeff Baena also wrote I Heart Huckabees.

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