Joshua Reviews Jeff Baena’s Life After Beth [Fantasia 2014 Review]


Few things have become, in the film world, as cliche-ridden as the romantic comedy and the zombie film. However, the idea of meshing the two is not only something that itself is starting to see a rise (look no further than the small hit Warm Bodies), but has yet to find its true winner yet.

It looks like it may just be on the horizon, however.

The latest entry in this small, but growing, subgenre of the horror/comedy variety is a film called Life After Beth, and with a killer ensemble cast brought together by writer/director Jeff Baena, this charming and lively comedy isn’t a groundbreaking meeting of the genres, but it’s still an absolute winner.

The film introduces us to a young man named Zach (the ever great Dane DeHaan), who is dealing with what appears to be his life’s first really heartbreaking moment. His life is thrown into the gutter following the mysterious death of his girlfriend Beth (a magnificent Aubrey Plaza), finding him devolving into a mess of emotions. Things get even weirder, though, as one day she suddenly returns to her home and only has a loss of memory to show for it. That is until things begin to come to light that may hint at the idea that she isn’t entirely the same Beth that once loved our young lead. A really fun romp of a horror/comedy that’s far heavier on the latter, Baena’s film is driven by great performances and a sense of physical humor you don’t quite see in film today.

And it’s that physical comedy that’s this film’s real calling card. While the final sequence itself is a blitzkrieg of slapstick humor unlike much we’ve seen lately, the film is full of great beats, big or small, that hint at the more classical style of comedy Baena is putting on display here. It’s not a really dense picture or thematically rewarding (one could argue it’s a rousing look at the heightened emotions found in early romances, but it’s too broad a film to really hold that up much), but it will leave any viewer in stitches, particularly as the story gets bigger and bigger, wackier and wackier. Baena, as a filmmaker, has a great handle on how to shoot this type of feature, allowing each set piece to really breath and the comedy to hit all of its notes. It’s not bravura filmmaking, but the punches of action here come out of nowhere and really add to the schizophrenic feel of the story and comedy, turning this into an ultimately slight, but charming, look at the heightened emotions of young love.

It also helps that the performances here are uniformly great. DeHaan is really fun here as the emotionally unstable lead character, a role we don’t really see him in often. It’s far less brooding than his career has featured so far, and his delivery for many of Baena’s lines is rather spot on. Plaza steals the show here, her performance getting more bombastic and broad with each passing second. She chews up every bit of scenery here, pun not intended, and like DeHaan, is a far cry from many of her previous performances. Matthew Gray Gubler is fun here in a supporting role as Zach’s unhinged brother, and the cast is rounded out by names like John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines and Molly Shannon, all of whom give entertaining performances here.

The film is currently playing this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and will be arriving in theaters on August 15.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.