‘Life & Beth’: Amy Schumer both amusing and involving as a woman looking inward
Writing, directing and subtly portraying an unhappy person looking back to her adolescence for answers, the comedian creates an ideal vehicle for her talents.
“No one loves you like your mom and no one hurts you like your mom.” — Amy Schumer as Beth in “Life & Beth.”
Amy Schumer has carved out quite the deservedly rewarding career by blurring the lines between her private life and her spotlight life, whether it’s in her stand-up routines or the documentary series “Expecting Amy,” and Schumer delivers some of the finest work of her career as the creator--star and one of the writers and directors of the semi-autobiographical comedy-drama series “Life & Beth,” a dryly funny, sometimes moving and bittersweet story of a 40ish woman who has come to the fork in the road of her life and isn’t sure which path to take.
One of the more intriguing aspects of “Life & Beth” is that unlikemany of the characters Schumer has played on scripted TV and in the movies, Beth does not come in like a human wrecking ball, hilariously lacking in self-awareness, verbal guns blazing, blunt and brutally honest to a fault. To be sure, Beth is whip-smart and funny and self-deprecating, and has a unique gift for slyly commenting, practically under her breath or with a perfectly timed reaction, on the ways of the world and the people she meets. But she’s also the type of person who doesn’t leave much of a first impression, as evidenced by the fact she’ll greet a client who will say, “It’s nice to meet you”—even though they’ve met numerous times in the past. Schumer proves to be adept at hitting quieter, more subtle notes as an actor.
A 10-episode series available Friday on Hulu
On the surface, Beth is like the star in a rom-com of her own life, which seems to be going pretty well. She’s made the move from Long Island to Manhattan, she has a nice apartment and a solid career as the top sales associate for a bargain-level wine company, and her boyfriend and co-worker, Matt (Kevin Kane), is a “New York eight,” as Beth puts it.
Only a few problems: Beth basically hates her job and has come to realize Matt is kind of a d-bag (credit to Kane for taking what could be a caricature and making him at least somewhat sympathetic), and she needs to make some changes before she drowns in a sea of ennui. There’s a darkness, a sadness, to her life, and she’s not entirely sure what to do about it.
And then, shockingly and out of the blue, a family tragedy transpires, and Beth finds herself back on Long Island, for who knows how long. (The setup has coincidental similarities to the transcendent “Somebody, Somewhere,” starring Schumer’s friend Bridget Everett. We even get the neat treat of seeing the fantastic Murray Hill in smallish but terrific roles in both series.) This is when “Life & Beth” announces its intentions to go beyond the traditional sitcom framework and dig for something deeper, as Beth examines the state of her current life while revisiting her pivotal adolescence, with Violet Young doing a lovely job of portraying the younger Beth, and Laura Benanti and Michael Rapaport turning in outstanding supporting work as Beth’s deeply flawed parents. (Dad in particular is a real piece of work.)
We see how monumentally embarrassing episodes from Beth’s youth have shaped her personality to this day. (Your heart will hurt for the girl more than once.) Meanwhile, in present day, Beth has made the break from Matt and gingerly enters into a friendship and possibly something more with the unfiltered, socially awkward and delightfully weird vineyard groundskeeper John (Michael Cera, excellent), who is the kind of guy who shows up for a memorial service and says something wildly inappropriate, and because you can see this guy doesn’t have a malicious or mean-spirited bone in his body, you basically shrug it off. Classic John!
Filled with memorable and authentic supporting performances from the aforementioned talents plus Jonathan Groff as a lifelong Long Islander who thinks of Manhattan as some exotic, unreachable foreign land, Yamaneika Saunders as Beth’s wisecracking best friend Maya and Susannah Flood as Beth’s cynical sister Ann, “Life & Beth” is arguably the best vehicle yet to serve Schumer’s talents, which makes sense given Schumer is behind the wheel every step of the way.