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EIFF 2014: Life After Beth

Life After Beth (Jeff Baena, 2014)

Improbably prolific sub-genre rom-zom-com gets its latest offering in the form of Life After Beth, the debut feature from writer/director Jeff Baena.

Zach (Dane Dehaan, he of the piercing blue eyes) is distraught following the death of his girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza). His parents (Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines) are shockingly insensitive in the face of his loss. Conversing with Beth’s father (John C Reilly) proves to be Zach’s only respite, a sympathetic ear prepared to listen as Zach explains Beth’s last words to him were heated and dissatisfied.

So when Beth suddenly reappears, seemingly unscathed, Zach is delighted and perplexed in equal measure. Relishing the opportunity to cherish and correct what he thought he’d loss, the lovers engage in animated rutting and re-pledge their troth. But Zach soon notices Beth’s not quite what she used to be – she’s preternaturally strong, aggressive, and worryingly fond of smooth jazz now. It’s soon evident Beth’s return is the harbinger of wide-scale doom, more and more ex-townsfolk showing up considerably less dead than they used to be . . .

Despite the pedigree comedy cast (also boasting SNL alum Molly Shannon and hot young thing Anna Kendrick) Life After Beth is a filmic misfire, far too light on the gags and limping under the strain of a woefully underdeveloped script. Plaza gurns and mugs fearlessly in the role of Beth, but her broad strokes performance grates and you find yourself willing her demise. The rest of the cast fare better, demonstrating dry, understated wit, but there just isn’t the strength of material to back their talent up. DeHaan is commendable as straight-man Zach, but you’re never invested in his love for Beth. Theirs is a bantam-weight romance, so there’s nothing to anchor proceedings when anarchy strikes. As for the anarchy, it’s too reigned in, not nearly raucous or gory enough: this is a zombie apocalypse devoid of any genuine sense of threat. Even an original score from the irreproachably cool Black Rebel Motorcycle Club doesn’t redeem things, no matter how much rawk credibility it lends. For all its promise, Life After Beth is a film that’s flat-lined.

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