Home Video Hovel- Burying the Ex, by Tyler Smith
God help me, I’m about to read too much into Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex. I don’t want to, believe me, because to do so would mean sitting down and really thinking about this wholly mediocre horror comedy that is neither scary nor funny, which I’d rather not do. Sure, we see occasional flares of Dante’s standard directorial enthusiasm, but the film remains forgettable and unengaging. But, it does seem to be trying to do something; it appears to be attempting to explore the importance of communication and boldness in our relationships. And, in that regard, the film winds up being fairly successful.
The story involves Max, played by a very game Anton Yelchin, and his demanding girlfriend, Evelyn (Ashley Greene). Their relationship isn’t necessarily terrible, but Evelyn is clearly the one in charge, with Max losing more and more of himself the longer he stays with her. Eventually, he decides to break up with her, but doesn’t get the chance as she is hit by a bus on her way to meet him. He is devastated, not necessarily with grief, but guilt. He goes into a deep depression, but is brought out by Olivia, a friendly ice cream artist played with refreshing naturalism by Alexandra Daddario.
Just as Max and Olivia are getting close, Evelyn crawls out of her grave and back into Max’s life. As it turns out, the macabre, Hot Topic-esque store where Max works features a demonic genie trinket that took things a bit too literally when Max promised that he and Evelyn would always be together, thus resurrecting her. What ensues is the farce-like tale of Max trying to maintain a relationship with Olivia while managing his undead ex-girlfriend.
Certainly not a bad premise to build a movie around. Noel Coward explored this with his play Blithe Spirit. Unfortunately, the screenplay for Burying the Ex doesn’t have the maturity and sense of dark giddiness required to pull off this material. Instead, it too often feels like a high concept teen movie from the mid-eighties, right down to the horndog best friend (or, in this case, half brother), played by Oliver Cooper as a character that is neither charming nor funny.
There remain a few shreds of the Joe Dante we’ve come to know and love. Macabre iconography is everywhere, as is the openly-declared love for old school horror. And there are certain sequences that, while not necessarily madcap, at least have the energy that we’ve come to expect from Dante in films like Gremlins and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. The rest of the time, however, the film looks and feels very bland. Perhaps Dante thought the idea of a zombie woman existing outside the usual context of boarded up houses and empty graveyards would be amusing, especially if the world she is occupying is one of bright Los Angeles sunlight and boring interior design; sort of like pale, dark Edward Scissorhands in the middle of the pastel suburbs. Unfortunately, the contrast isn’t really that stark, and the film eventually just looks cheap and slapped together.
In spite of its many artistic flaws, however, Burying the Ex turns out to be a nice little allegory for relationships. Many of us will remain in a situation long after it has stopped being fulfilling and started being damaging. The reason? Because it would be just too uncomfortable to have the necessary conversation to end it, or even to improve it. Better instead to simply endure the frustration and look for other ways to be fulfilled. Of course, this can result in resentment and bitterness. These emotions will need to be dealt with eventually, whether we want to or not. And, if we let them go on for too long, to overcome them may seem genuinely impossible, as they have morphed into something much meaner and uglier than we anticipated.
Evenlyn’s return into Max’s life is, in some way, inevitable. His self loathing over not breaking up with her when he had the chance, and the guilt over her death are not just mindsets that will go away. They must be confronted, in this case quite literally, as Evelyn makes it clear that she’s not going anywhere. The shy, passive approach that Max may have used before just isn’t going to fly here. He’s going to have to be bold and assertive for the first time in his life, lest he be completely swallowed up by his frustration and resentment.
These are all very interesting concepts that are certainly worth exploring. I find myself imagining how exciting this film would be if the writer had demanded more of himself, rather than simply settling for the easy jokes. This material deserves a better script, which would undoubtedly be elevated even more by Joe Dante’s directorial zeal. Burying the Ex had all the makings of a funny, energetic, thoughtful movie, but winds up settling for being much, much less.