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Life After Beth

Life After Beth is a one-joke movie. It’s a pretty good joke, I have to admit, but once it’s revealed the film keeps milking the gag until the life goes out of it. Aubrey Plaza (best known for Parks and Recreation) plays a girl named Beth who’s just died, leaving her boyfriend (Dane DeHaan) utterly distraught. He seeks comfort from her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), but when he arrives at their house the day after the funeral he gets a tremendous shock: Beth is still alive. Or that’s how it seems.

Normally I wouldn’t reveal more than that—and if you still don’t know the premise, stop reading now—but the trailer for Life After Beth gives away the joke: the reason she’s back home is that she’s become a zombie. With each passing day, she’s less human and more rabid.

Plaza throws herself into the part and does a great job, never winking at the audience, but DeHaan is placed in the position of being a straight man, reacting to her increasingly gruesome behavior. Perhaps if writer-director Jeff Baena had approached his character in a more farcical manner the movie would be funnier. I lost patience with it.

I was rewarded, somewhat, by a fantastic sight gag that occurs near the end of the film…but it, too, is included in the trailer. That makes it hard for me to recommend investing an hour and a half in Life After Beth.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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