I think I enjoyed Life After Beth. It has no discernible genre; it’s an amalgamation of comedy, horror, drama and rom com that misses the mark on each one. A lot of independent films encounter the same identity crisis, but perhaps there’s little need for a definitive label when the plot centres on relationship exploration and the audience came prepared to meander through a slow-paced story. Sometimes we need a break from formulaic blockbusters to indulge in films demanding our patience unites with our stylistic appreciation for a 90 minute spell, and when Aubrey Plaza stars in a film you’re guaranteed deadpan delivery alongside believable characterisation.
We are introduced to Beth as recently deceased, and soon thereafter she’s reacquainted with Zachery; her boyfriend, in apparent zombie form, although she’s forgotten all about the time she clawed her way out of her own grave. When Joss Whedon dealt Buffy the same fate, he acknowledged the emotional trauma of resurrection by having her endure severe depression until an impromptu singalong eased her despondency. No such emotional intensity is reached in Life After Beth as the frequent tone changes interrupt the poignancy of mourning – for example, the poorly executed joke about Zach ‘fucking’ his dead girlfriend’s scarf. While I admire the brief foray into showing the unorthodox behaviour we might exhibit in our solitude, our voyeurism is soon interrupted by Zach’s pedestrian brother, Kyle, in what attempts to be a comedic moment. The trailer advertised a largely comedic tone but sadly a lot of the jokes are too obvious to invoke a reaction. There are a few subtle laughs to be had, but most of the comedy originates from characters such as Beth’s parents: Geenie and Maury Slocum, who are played by actors with vast improv’ experience (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly). The only conventionally funny line arrives near the climax of the film: a character says ‘goodbye’ before intending harm and the other replies ‘where are you going?’ in a classic case of misunderstanding.
The dialogue is neither fantastic nor terrible, so the high-calibre cast reconcile the banal script. Matthew Gray Gubler is fascinating to watch in the role of gun-obsessed security officer Kyle, due to his earnest demeanour and excessively masculine mannerisms. Mid-way through, Aubrey Plaza’s real-life best friend Anna Kendrick shows up as childhood friend – film code for ‘potential love interest’ – Erica, to add another light-hearted dimension to the slightly tedious dynamic of Beth and Zach’s love affair; the cast get it right.
The script may lack originality, but the concept doesn’t. Plus, it’s a good first attempt from Jeff Beana at writing and directing independently. The film relaxes and hooks you to a certain extent, provided you don’t analyse the absurdity of sudden plot acceleration or watch with friends; it’s definitely a film best enjoyed alone. Hardly high praise, I know, but if you enjoy films that are a little imperfect and require some scouting for the hidden gem within, it could be worth your time.
Erratically paced and tonally imbalanced, watch Life After Beth if you’re a fan of Aubrey Plaza, study films professionally or need to zone out for an hour or so.