Life After Beth

***

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Aubrey Plaza and Dane De Haan in Life After Beth
"Feels less experimental and alternative than, well, the zombie genre demands."

As the saying goes, when there are no more ideas in Hollywood the dead will walk the Earth. A second feature for writer director Jeff Baena of I Heart Huckabees, this is a sunshiny star-studded zombie romantic comedy. It's not as bereft of wit as it is of originality, but it is another member of a plague of comic catastrophes.

The titular Beth is Aubrey Plaza, one of the Slocums, a family in grief, mother Molly Shannon, father John C Reilly. Beth died, leaving everyone distraught, especially boyfriend Zach (Orfman), played by Dane Dehan. His brother is played by Matthew Gray Gubler, his mother by Cheryl Hines, and his father by Paul Reiser. It's a ridiculous cast, full of familiar faces, but it's that very familiarity that's Life After Beth's biggest weakness.

Using genre to explore relationships isn't anything new - at Edinburgh's 2014 there are at least two: Coherence, which is to love stories involving alternate realities what a guillotine is to a sliding door, and The Infinite Man, which perfectly explores the futility of trying to be perfect. If you're looking for zombies instead of other violations of causality and the natural order, you're also well catered to. Unlike Shaun Of The Dead, however, this is less a loving homage to a genre and its tropes than a seemingly cynical exercise in film making.

It's not without fun - this is what makes it frustrating - there are moments that might explain what's going on, and a quest for answers says more about prejudices than the audience initially believes. There are some jokes that are genuinely amusing, minor character notes as simple as choice and quantity of beverage or the presence of a Desert Eagle. It's the most powerful handgun in the world according to Eighties action movies, but it's not a detail that's laboured. Indeed, when it's in its stride LAB is light, even breezy; it allows some of the cast to trade on their previous casting by acting against type, but on other occasions it relies on their presence to create a comic mood and it feels less experimental and alternative than, well, the zombie genre demands.

As a "boy loses girl, girl comes back from the dead, relationship is re-evaluated" movie it pretty thoroughly aims to be a zom rom com, but that was funny when there was only one, and now it feels, well, lifeless. It's probable, even likely, that the perceived cynicism in production is in part a reflection of the soulless nature of your reviewer, but it's still there. It's foregrounded by the extent to which the film trades on the tropes, including the score with its electronics and its electric guitar, the music provided by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a band who take their name from another movie. There is also a quantity of smooth jazz, but it just leads to comparisons with Mars Attacks.

It's good, indeed, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but it suffers from the same kind of homegenity that means in any big city one is rarely more than a few hundred yards from pulled pork in brioche or a burger with a component to which the word 'artisinal' has been applied. There's got to be something different out there, something new - this is the same old flesh in a different wrapper. In a field bereft of competition Life After Beth would be in with more than a ghost of a chance, but while it's amusing enough to woo audiences it's not haunting.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2014
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Beth dying makes life hard. Beth coming back makes it harder.
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