Other Worlds Austin: Night of the Living Deb

I Love Lucy meets Shaun of the Dead

Every great romance starts with a few hiccups. In the delightfully goofy rom-com Night of the Living Deb, that happens to be brain-devouring revenants.

The Kickstarter-funded, Portland-set comedy was the perfect light-hearted closer to last weekend's second Other Worlds Austin Science Fiction Film Festival, even if it stretched the definition of sci-fi beyond the breaking point. Instead, it's a giddy, hilarious riff on the zombie romantic comedy.

The ace up its rotting sleeve is the sparky, zesty energy between its leads. Deb (Maria Thayer) is a goofy camera operator for a TV station, down on her romantic luck, when she falls/is pushed in the direction of Ryan (Michael Cassidy). The next morning, he's shoving her out the door hard, but her walk of shame is interrupted by the slight inconvenience of the zombie apocalypse.

Tipping its hat clearly to It Happened One Night, Deb's tale of a couple finding unlikely love under the worst possible circumstances is a breathless, giggly affair. Thayer has the goofy grace of a young Lucille Ball, her awkward attempts to both seduce and be aloof around Ryan a delicious mix of pratfalls and witty banter. As for Ryan, his charming exasperation at her obliviousness is the perfectly-toned counterbalance.

Basically, imagine 30 Rock's Liz Lemon hitting on Parks and Recreation's Ben Wyatt. And honestly, it's that level of chemistry. Thayer and Cassidy are a perfect pairing. Then director Kyle Rankin (Infestation, The Battle of Shaker Heights) tips the whole affair into delirious class comedy farce with the introduction of Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Digging up the Marrow) as a brownie-baking millionaire.

After a year in which too many comedies have relied on poop gags and in-jokes (I mind neither, unless they're done lazily – looking at you, Vacation), its a wonderful change to laugh through something smart, sassy, charming, and just straight-ahead heartwarming. The zombies are set-dressing, but the the jokes are all keepers.

For more about Night of the Lving Deb, visit www.nightofthelivingdeb.com.

For more on Other Worlds Austin, visit www.otherworldsaustin.com.

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