Monday, 18 August 2014

REVIEW - LIFE AFTER BETH (JEFF BAENA)


In treating its story's origin point as its punchline, Life After Beth basically upends traditional narrative structure. In fact, it does so with such purity that it effectively disembowels its second act, leaving it devoid of suspense, and pining desperately for the resolution that promises to finally kickstart it. That's a brave, probably unintentional, gambit from first-time director Jeff Baena, one which relies on whatever circumstances he can cook up in order to enliven proceedings for the film's middle third. His hit rate in doing so is extremely spotty: on the negative end of the spectrum, his character development is loose and derivative, with many figures simply appearing from time to time, whenever required, and their irrelevance only makes their appearances seem gratuitous. But, on the positive side, Baena's touch for comedy is sharp, and his ability to mine comedic value from scenarios generally very good. Indeed, he foregoes the obvious opportunities for gags, again potentially an unintentional strategy, instead delivering them at less expected junctures. And humour is never more effective than when it catches you off guard. He also has a humdinger of a comedic conduit in Aubrey Plaza. She inhabits her ravenous titular character with a superb knack for the art of comedy, deploying all of her acting assets - voice tone, physicality, facial expressions - to transform the stereotypical zombie into a classic comedy staple. She's so committed to her caricature, and the result is irresistible; Life After Beth noticeably suffers whenever she's not on screen. For the film, life after Aubrey Plaza is as undead as her character - it's Plaza who is the lifeblood, and a most delicious source too.