Friday, 8 August 2014

Life After Beth (2014)

Theatrical release posterNight of the Living Girlfriend

Director: Jeff Baena
Running Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon

Moving on from a lost love may be a difficult task known by many people, but at least their experiences have never led to an uprising of the undead.

Zach (DeHaan) is reeling from the death of his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza), lacking in an appetite or any desire to get on with his life. He hangs around with Beth's parents, bonding over memories of the departed, when upon one visit to their house, catches a glimpse of Beth inside. After barging his way through, Zach discovers that his deceased girlfriend has been resurrected, and proceeds to make up for time lost with her. But he sees the return of more faces from years past, while noticing that his girlfriend smells terrible, becomes more prone to mood swings and has a hunger for more than just food.

The first half acts as an intimate drama, where Dane DeHaan and John C. Reilly perform exemplary work as two men who hold a lot of pain within and are struggling to cope with it. Once the titular character returns, Zach is understandably puzzled by the events but soon accepts it as a second chance to rekindle the relationship which was dwindling in its final days. However, it is through the attempts to rekindle the relationship where it becomes clear that Zach was viewing his relationship through rose-tinted glasses, as things were far from perfect between the two.

Zach looks on at what his resurrected girlfriend has become

It's all the more a shame that things do not continue down this route, taking a look at the effects of loss and whether it is better for our protagonist to let go of Beth instead of holding on to her memory as her skin rots and she gains a hunger for flesh. Instead, things continue onwards with a focus on a horror/comedy mash-up which doesn't work, coming off as a poor entry into The Cornetto Trilogy. But all through this, DeHaan and Plaza give great performances which anchor the story, while sharing great chemistry which easily sells their relationship.

Having dealt with the unbearable loss of their only child, the actions of Beth's parents are completely understandable. It makes sense that they would overlook the dark reality of the situation to savour the fact that they have their daughter back, and the duo of John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon bring across the idea that they will do anything for their daughter really well. It's this good characterization in Beth's family which makes it all the more a shame that Zach's family are left merely as caricatures, with the brother Kyle especially coming off as little more than a pain.

Considering it's his directorial debut, it's understandable that Jeff Baena's direction is in need of some fine tuning. The moments of humor are well intentioned, but unfortunately do not work, with a few scarce points worth raising a chuckle at, while the story ends up developing at a pace worthy of Snails.

Life Without Beth holds promise, but turns what could have been a twist into looking at the effects of loss into a stumbled attempt at a horror/comedy mash-up that's weighed down by a slow pace.

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