You can say this about Life After Beth, the indie zombie romantic comedy (zom-rom-com?) by first time director, Jeff Baena: Aubrey Plaza (2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed”) makes for a great zombie. With her deadpan delivery and soulless eyes, she doesn’t have to do much to look and act like the dead reawakened.
Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a good thing, as Dane DeHaan (2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) provides all the life the picture needs. He is Zach, Beth’s boyfriend, err, ex-boyfriend who is visibly distraught when his girlfriend dies unexpectedly from a snake bite while on a hike alone. She flamenco danced alone too and these things he chose to not do with her is causing him guilt and to wish he had spent those times with her. As luck would have it, Beth suddenly reappears days after her funeral, seemingly normal but confused. A resurrection her parents, Maury (John C. Reilly, 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Geenie (Molly Shannon, cast member of “Saturday Night Live”) believe. Something else according to Zach, but fuck it, it’s a second chance to do all things he wished he’d done with Beth the first time she was alive.
But what starts out as a second chance at love quickly devolves into anarchy as zombies roaming the streets tend to make happen.
How the dead came to rewalk upon the Earth is anybody’s guess, Jeff Baena (who also wrote the script) doesn’t fumble with that minor detail. Or that people, so consumed with their own slice of reality, pay no attention to the situation unfolding around them. Until, of course, the reanimated mailman (Jim O’Heir, “Parks and Recreation” television series) or the shortorder cook start deteriorating before their eyes (don’t you dare ask how they managed to get their jobs back either). It’s soon a life or death situation but not for Zach who has discovered spine-cringingly bad smooth jazz calms the raging zombie (a well-placed bullet calms ‘em permanently too).
It’s tough to not appreciate Baena’s purposeful oversight of the larger implications surrounding the zombie apocalypse plaguing the town and parts unknown. That can be left to the likes of “World War Z” and its sequels. The fact Beth is a flesh-eating zombie is coolly treated like just another one of her idiosyncrasies — not one of those cute ones like snortling though — but rather like one that eventually wears a man down and makes him wish he was somewhere else with someone else. In Zach’s case that someone else is family friend, Erica Wexler (Anna Kendrick, 2013’s “Drinking Buddies”) who shows up at just the right time to get Zach thinking it may be best to leave the past dead and buried.
The pairing of Aubrey and Dane together is an odd choice, but then again it could be said the romantic pairing of anyone with Aubrey Plaza would be odd. In Plaza’s defense, however, she’s given more freedom to flesh out her character to be something other than the wry, smartass she is usually equated with being. Here she is cute and flirty and vibrant (full of life, perhaps?), so when we see the struggle her Beth is trying to come to terms with (akin to watching someone slipping into dementia) we sympathize. We don’t want to happen to her what we know has to happen to her.
But we sympathize more for Zach who effectively loses the love of his life twice. And because this wide-eyed in love kid is surrounded by a rabid, gun loving brother (Matthew Gray Gubler, “Criminal Minds” television series) and inattentive parents (Cheryl Hines, 2013’s “Cold Turkey” and Paul Reiser, “Mad About You” television series) who are completely indifferent to his plight. DeHaan manages to play Zach for some good teen angst laughs, but by the end of Life After Beth he shows Zach has undergone a fair amount of maturing.
Ultimately everyone left alive has grown up some, including the audience. And that it takes a quirky, romantic-comedy involving an undead girl and her living boyfriend to remind us there are no redos in life and to not put off until tomorrow what can be done today is proof of that.