Quint checks out Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan in romantic zomedy LIFE AFTER BETH at Sundance 2014!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. My string of Sundance movies featuring Anna Kendrick reviews is still going strong as we get to yet another genre-bender from this year's fest.
Even though Life After Beth was one of my top must see films at Sundance this year I couldn't see it until later in the festival. The first half of Sundance is always a Hellraiser puzzle box that is constantly moving and seemingly impossible to solve. There are films I have to see for interviews and they take priority, so the second half of the fest tends to be me playing catch up with the films I'll hate myself for if I miss.
What that means is that I'm often catching the last or second to last show of a title and by then word has gotten out. In the case of Life After Beth, the word from friends, colleagues and the regular joe attendees I chatted up on line or in the shuttles was that Life After Beth was good, not great. Middling was the word.
But I learned many many Sundances ago that the range of filmic taste at this festival is about as broad as you can get, so I take every single recommendation/condemnation with a grain of salt unless it's from a really, really close friend.
Call it lowered expectations, but I quite enjoyed Life After Beth, which is essentially an examination of a troubled relationship... but with zombies. Dane DeHaan's character gets a second chance after a bad breakup... unfortunately that second chance is with the newly resurrected Beth , (Aubrey Plaza) who died of a snakebite while hiking shortly after the breakup.
Much like Cooties, the filmmakers play with zombie lore here, creating a new kind of zombie universe. Beth might be the first person to come back, but she's not the last. The strange thing is that when she comes back she's pretty much just herself, but with some memory loss. At least at first. Then she starts having some crazy violent mood swings, exhibits super strength, develops a deep love of soft jazz and starts rotting.
It's actually a pretty interesting examination of the kind of revisionist history that happens after someone dies. You know what I'm talking about... a prickish grandpa dies and suddenly he wasn't a mean asshole anymore, he was a character. That kind of thing. Here we don't ever see the relationship before, just DeHaan in mourning. He's overjoyed when he gets his second chance, but soon the sheen has worn off and while she may not have been slowly turning into a flesh eating monster on their first go-round the arguing, controlling and jealousy all return.
Horror comedy is a particularly tricky subgenre to step into and I think writer/director Jeff Baena did a great job with this one with the help of a particularly talented cast including DeHaan, Plaza, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser and Anna Kendrick.
Plaza is so good here, almost spoofing her dry persona. She shows a lot of range here, at least for anybody who hasn't seen her in Parks and Recreation. I was getting some PTSD flashback when she started getting crazy and controlling, but we've all had that crazy girl/boyfriend, right? She taps into something very real even when it's supposed to be over the top and funny.
DeHaan also gets a chance to throw aside the moody quiet type he's been cast in ever since Chronicle. Much like Plaza's dry, cynical line delivery, that persona is definitely present in the film, but he gets to push past it after the first act and play someone freaking out. It's kind of like if you mixed Bill Paxton's Hudson from Aliens with anything Gene Wilder has played. Imagine that mixture and you're close to what DeHaan does here.
Anna Kendrick doesn't have a big part here, but her character is super cute and has a fantastically funny confrontation with a jealous (and newly run over) zombie Aubrey Plaza. Kendrickdance 2014 is in full swing!
Paul Reiser also doesn't have a ton to do, but it's just nice to see him on the big screen again. Reilly and Shannon get a lot of screentime and as you'd expect work perfectly well together.
The film has a little wonky, confusing editing in the first act, but quickly finds its feet and hooked me in until the bitter end. That's the only negative I could think of, honestly, and it's not anything that detracts from the rest of the film.
I don't know what else I can say without ruining the surprises (including a comedy legend who appears as a zombie for a scene), but I will end this brief review by saying that I was laughing my ass off throughout this film after having a particularly rotten burrito at the Eccles, which left me feeling quite sick, so if this flick could raise my dicey burrito-sick spirits then it should be able to warm over genre fans.
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