Life After Beth was written and directed by Jeff Baena, whose biggest prior credit is co-writing David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees (2004), but who also happens to be dating Plaza. Known for her dry, deadpan delivery, Plaza (2013's The To Do List, 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed) is more prickly than other leading-lady comedians, like her Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler. Even dressed in Beth's sweet polka-dotted dress, Plaza is equal parts snarky and unpredictable, a vibe that perfectly suits the scene where Zach tries to woo her with a song he's written for her. "This fucking sucks!" she growls, before exploding into a rage that ends with a beachside inferno involving an unfortunately situated lifeguard stand. She's high maintenance. She's shrill, demanding, jealous, and terrifying. And her boyfriend may have written her the part, but Plaza is 100 percent in control of this character — even in the scenes after Beth has morphed into a teeth-gnashing monster, she appears to be having a blast. Did I mention that zombies in this movie are obsessed with smooth jazz?
Zach is the first romantic leading role for DeHaan, who's best-known for sinister turns in Chronicle (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Though he spends most of his scenes with Plaza recoiling from Beth's antics, his emo intensity is the perfect foil for the easygoing Reilly, whose cool-dad persona (he keeps a joint stashed for emergencies) starts to crack as Maury becomes more desperate to protect his daughter.
Life After Beth could have dared to shove the skewer a little deeper into the zombie genre — the notion that Haitian voodoo causes the dead to rise does get a well-deserved knock, and there are some funny bits with zombies who behave in non-traditional ways (some of them even deliver the mail). But aside from Plaza's oversized performance, the humor here is surprisingly subtle, and often of the muttered-under-the-breath variety. As for the romance, the movie cops out a little bit by bringing Anna Kendrick in about midway through as Zach's childhood friend Erica, a living, breathing alternative to Beth — who by that point is displaying aggressive mood swings and giving off killer death breath. But there's also the suggestion that giggly airhead Erica, who agrees with everything Zach says and whose favorite word is "Ohmygod!", isn't much of an upgrade. A different kind of zombie, perhaps? *
LIFE AFTER BETH is available for viewing on DIRECTV.