There have been few occurrences of breakouts so widespread but so unwatched as Dane DeHaan’s. Since his debut in In Treatment, he has taken on roles in the well-regarded The Place Beyond the Pines, dabbled in Beat poetry in Kill Your Darlings, and took part in the horrendous Amazing Spiderman reboot. All in all, despite numerous credits yearly, most moviegoers still don’t know who he is. I managed to watch two successive movies in which he stars over the weekend:
Life After Beth (2014)
2.25 out of 4 stars
As noted previously, I love the zombie subgenre of horror: The Walking Dead, George A Romero, Z Nation. I’ll give them all a shot. I can barely consider them a guilty pleasure, because that would require actually feeling guilt. The genre can span a variety of different moods, reasons for the zombie outbreak, and results of how the virus is spread. In Life After Beth, we are introduced to the grieving trio of Zach (DeHaan) and Maury (John C Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon) following the death of Beth (Aubrey Plaza), their girlfriend and daughter, respectively. Upon her surprising reappearance and strange behavior, the unsuspecting loved ones find increasingly bizarre behavior with their departed, then returned, Beth, and that’s not where the peculiarity ends.
On a positive note, Life After Beth is not your average zombie story line. Yes, zombies rise from the grave. Yes, people are concerned. Yes, the zombies eat people. That’s about all the standard zombie plot points that the movie claims. The zombies do not awaken seeking brains. They are undead creatures, but bar their personal degree of decay, they may or may not exhibit the appearance of zombification; they generally know who they are but lack the knowledge of their deaths, and where their families are concerned with their reawakening, they tend to treat this more as a return from rehab than a return from the underworld.
The cast is full of exceptional talents. However, the performances of these talented actors clash; they all seem to think they are in their own parody/satire of the zombie genre. DeHaan is a weepy boyfriend; Plaza seems utterly lost; Reilly is brash and concerned; and Shannon is comedically motherly. None of these performances are out of place or bad by any means, but none of them seem like they belong in the same movie. This is particularly obvious when we are greeted by characters outside of this quartet, notably Zach’s parents, played by Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser without the peculiar characterizations.
Writer and director Jeff Baena, author of I Heart Huckabees, chose this project for his first double dip into filmmaking, and this hopefully gave him ample learning experiences. Taking both major tasks, it seems he found himself lost in his own story. He swung wide with his characters, and the dialogue was heavily unnatural, leading many scenes to fall flat and drag on. However, he found his strength in the story. The new take on this zombie “apocalypse” was intriguing, and his details placed into the background brought a surprising amount of humor to exactly how unaware the characters were to the craziness also happening around them.
Pending some lessons learned in his breakout, I hope Baena’s upcoming Joshy has the wrinkles more finely ironed. Bringing in the big names provides likable qualities to a movie, but it can also provide higher expectations. Those familiar faces tie back to comedy classics and Oscar nominations, so if one is ready to meet those expectations, swing away. Otherwise, trust your project with lesser known actors: the audience might just find themselves surprised by the newbies.
3 out of 4 stars
Anton Corbijn, not unlike DeHaan, burst onto the movie scene years ago without acquiring widespread attention. Following a successful music video career, he won acclaim with Joy Division frontman biopic Control and directed one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last roles in A Most Wanted Man. Little recognition accrued in the US for the Dutch filmmaker, and unfortunately his latest film Life, landed even less attention despite its very American story.
Life tells the story of Life magazine photo journalist Dennis Stock’s (Robert Pattison) photo essay of upcoming star James Dean leading up to the release of his debut (movie 1/3) East of Eden. Delving into the personal and private lives of both men between encounters, Corbijn and screenwriter Luke Davies (watch for his script for this December’s Lion to receive some awards traction) create a taut presentation of two artists finding ground in their business.
Dane DeHaan receives the meatier role as James Dean, and he performs the role with his most mopey, disillusioned method. The well known stammer and mannerisms are displayed to almost irritating frequency, and his performance is mostly mimicry in public. The private moments of an artist craving isolation provide the human behind the legend, and we find the legend never wanted more than to act and then be left alone. Leaning on the Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight side of acting, his impersonation sometimes distracts from the performance, but in such an iconic position, one seems almost assured to overdo it.
Robert Pattinson follows up his strong work in Maps to the Stars with a possible career best in Life. Certainly less showy than the James Dean role, Pattinson brings life to the struggling photographer. His life is a mess: he’s an absent father, the magazine expenses have no guarantee of reimbursement, his star is hard to track down. He struggles to find his footing, but Pattinson fills those wobbly shoes with grace and undeniable likability. His star power is still heavy, and losing his weightier Cronenberg roles has done wonders for natural acting. It’s no Kristen Stewart post-Twilight transformation, but Pattinson is certainly back on the rise to being an actual actor again.
The movie does not find it’s voice until a third of the way through the movie. We have a lot of facts about these two men. Though the piece is a continuous celebration of American iconography, the dark underbelly of the waning studio system and the exploration of Dean’s instability foreshadow his untimely end with an admirable unsettling quality. Corbijn’s style, though not distinctive, shows great balance and effective staying power. Just watch for Ben Kingsley as Jack Warner, one of the Warner Brothers; he’s a terrifying antagonist despite the small role. We shall hope both DeHaan’s and Corbijn’s future ventures attract some additional recognition.