‘Life After Beth’ is a waste of your time
PHOTO BY PHOTOS COURTESY OF A24
LIFE AFTER BETH
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $1.00
What's it worth?: $.50
Writer-director Jeff Baena helms this story about Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan), whose girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) has died. Soon, however, she returns from the dead, but Zach quickly realizes she’s not how he remembers her. The rom-com also features John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, and Anna Kendrick. (91 min.)
Editors note: New Times Senior Staff Writer Colin Rigley and Staff Writer Rhys Heyden filled in for Glen Starkey this week.
Colin: Before I get into this review, I just want Aubrey Plaza to know that I haven’t given up on her yet. As one of my top TV crushes—second only to Kaylee in the show Firefly—I used to think that Aubrey could do no wrong. Then I saw Life After Beth, a film that opens on a shot of Beth (Plaza) walking down a nondescript hiking trail and FREAKING TEXTING! Then, fade to black, and in the next scene she’s dead because of a snake bite … or something. The flick ended with a voice inside my head screaming, “Just shoot her in the damn head so I can go home and watch cartoons!” There is virtually no reason to see this movie. It was most likely written by Seth Rogen’s high school stoner buddy, passed off for a rewrite from a 14-year-old whose previous work included yelling homophobic slurs on Xbox Live, and edited by a lawnmower. There are a handful of redeeming moments in Life After Beth. All, but one, are in the trailer … and those moments aren’t really all that great. The other moment is a shared doobie between Beth’s boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) and Beth’s dad, Maury Slocum (John C. Reilly). But that moment was followed by 90 minutes of such atrocious other moments that my only coping mechanism was to fantasize about Zach having his throat ripped out. I’m actually getting worked up again just thinking about this movie. Now, I have shitty-movie PTSD. AGH! Aubrey is really testing our relationship with this one.
Rhys: If you find yourself confused by the above paragraph, it really isn’t Colin’s fault. The target of your ire should be Jeff Baena, the writer-director of this jumbled piece of cinematic garbage. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more schizophrenic or tonally confused film, so it’s mind-boggling to discover that Life After Beth is the singular vision of one man. Baena’s only previous Hollywood accolade is a co-writing credit on the 2004 film I Heart Huckabees, which leads me to conclude he’s spent the past decade snorting lines of coke and taking screenwriting classes from M. Night Shyamalan. The plot of Life After Beth (and I use the p-word extremely generously) is roughly thus: Beloved daughter and girlfriend Beth comes back from the dead; wackiness ensues. Everyone responds to Beth’s re-emergence differently, with her mother (Molly Shannon) convinced it’s a joyful resurrection, and Zach, bafflingly, alternating between wanting to sex Beth up and being repulsed that she’s a zombie. Yes, dear reader, this is yet another zombie movie, but without the creativity of Shaun of the Dead or the genuine horror of 28 Days Later. It’s a zom-rom-com-drama that tries to hit every demographic and fails to hit any. Despite high-effort performances from most of the cast, this movie is disappointingly dull and flat—languorous when it should be punchy, and confusing when it should be explanatory. It left me frustrated and wondering what kind of Hollywood voodoo Baena must have used to attract such a wonderful cast (Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, and Garry Marshall also turn up in smaller roles).
Colin: Ah, Rhys. Pedantic as ever, giving far too much thoughtful criticism to a movie that deserves none. It’s difficult to put into words my thoughts on Life After Beth, but I think it can best be illustrated if you picture me sitting alone in a theater, tongue outstretched, blowing saliva at the screen, holding two derogatory fingers triumphantly in the air. Translation: This movie blows. But beyond blowing, it’s also offensive. Not offensive in the gee-shucks-that’s-gross kind of way—more in the way of, “Why are the characters calling things ‘gay’ and ‘retarded?’” I haven’t been so disgusted by such juvenile dialogue since junior high, but at least pubescent boys don’t know any better. An adult should know better; Baena should know better. Maybe he was going for shock value; if so, he should definitely never go for shock value again. And if you love Aubrey Plaza, stay willfully ignorant of her poor choices and avoid Life After Beth like the plague.
Rhys: Get ready, Colin, because I’m about to go all KFC and double down on the pedantry. Let’s start with the fact that DeHaan (28) and Plaza (30) are confusingly made to play characters who are somewhere between 18 and 21. There’s also the aggravating directorial choice to have a zombie universe without any semblance of rules. Baena’s zombies (yes, there are many more after Beth) can’t handle daylight (except they kinda can), like to feast on flesh (except when they don’t), and are super-aggressive (except when they’re chatty and harmless). To your point, Colin, I absolutely agree that this movie is replete with jarringly crass and juvenile elements. The whole concept of zombie-on-human sex is straight-up gross, and Zach doesn’t have the excuse of a zombified brain to justify his dumb, sophomoric actions. I could go into more detail about Zach’s bizarre, eleventh-hour romantic interest (Kendrick), a dead-end Haitian red herring (don’t even ask), or how the camera creepily lingers on Plaza’s crotch (repeatedly), but I’ll save that outrage for a worthier foe. Colin is right: This movie wasn’t worth our time, and it isn’t worth yours either.
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