REVIEW: An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn [2018]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 108 minutes | Release Date: October 19th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures Content Group
Director(s): Jim Hosking
Writer(s): Jim Hosking & David Wike

“That man ain’t dead”

There’s an unforgettable scene from “Twin Peaks” season two that can be a make-it or break-it point for viewers due to how far David Lynch and company were willing to go with the cringe factor of their off-kilter comedic tone. It’s the one where Agent Cooper is lying on the floor of his hotel room after being shot by an unknown assailant. He’s bleeding out when the lovingly coined Señor Droolcup comes to the door with a glass of milk and obliviousness for the ages. Instead of getting help or even acknowledging the precarious nature of Cooper’s predicament, he winks and gives the thumbs up signal once, twice, three times. We’re left waiting with a mix of discomfort, annoyance, and mild amusement. This is Jim Hosking‘s style.

I didn’t conjure the comparison watching his debut The Greasy Strangler because its use of unknown actors made it so I couldn’t be fully cognizant of whether their line readings and performances were intentional or unavoidable. Was the aesthetic a byproduct of the cast Hosking had assembled or did he ask his cast to buy into the creation of that aesthetic for him? While I would have leaned towards the former two years ago, his sophomore effort An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn appears to reveal the latter is the case. It’s as though Hosking sees the discomfort and annoyance of a scene like the one described above as more reason to laugh. His off-putting comedy therefore makes us an active participant. Hosking is laughing at our irritation.

While I can appreciate that goal, I don’t enjoy being the experience. Sitting at the front of the theater with night vision goggles as audiences squirm, wince, and smirk would be another story. If I were Hosking (and in this case co-writer David Wike), seeing the fruits of my weird labors would be a sadistic delight. Despite “liking” this entry to his unique oeuvre more than its predecessor, though, the masochistic side of the equation simply isn’t for me. I could accept having to reposition myself in my seat out of awkwardness during “Twin Peaks” because I knew there’d be something worthwhile in the aftermath. All this film supplies is more disquieting confusion, its payoff being proof that you’ve been the butt of the joke from the start.

Credit to Hosking for never trying to hide this fact, though. The performance he has Emile Hirsch deliver as Shane “That’s not even a real name” Danger is too broad to be described as anything but cartoonish with his cocked eyebrow and wide-eyed hamster spinning of half-baked ideas cut in half yet again thanks to the mouth-breathing sidekicks he’s forced to enlist (Zach Cherry‘s Tyrone and Sky Elobar‘s Carl). He’s basically stroking his chin with faux contemplation whenever he isn’t trying to seduce his wife Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) via lip-biting pelvic thrusts. We can only hope he’ll fade into the background once we realize she’s both the lead and desperate to escape his clutches. But he remains as comic relief anyway—overdone, second-hand embarrassing comic relief.

It’s such an “act” that Sam Dissanayake seems Brando-esque as Lulu’s brother Adjay Willis. A Hosking return player (along with Elobar), his deadpanned, monotone screaming fits of “f-word” rage are hilarious since he’s achieving naturally (and without shame or perhaps self-awareness) what Hirsch attempts through craft. He, Carl, and Tyrone are the only characters that genuinely earned a laugh from me, proving my distaste for The Greasy Strangler was probably rooted more in its gross-out subject matter than tone. Put that cast of eccentrics into this more “heartfelt” script and I think it could really work as an in-joke-fueled “bad actors in bigger budgeted production” gag. With Plaza, Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Craig Robinson, and Matt Berry leading the way, however, it comes across as an inspired failure.

Plaza and Clement actually fit the tone without going “big” like Hirsch. Their indifference goes a long way towards matching the awkwardness of the script’s wild forays into extra-long jokes running well past the point of earned comedy for a play at bludgeoning us into a manic state of fabricated euphoria. The former’s Lulu decides to leave Shane upon seeing an advertisement for the “magical” titular evening with Beverly Luff Linn (Robinson)—a man for whom photographs show she was once romantically linked. Clement’s Colin is unwittingly enlisted as her bodyguard, falling in love with her in the process. The two leave and book a room at the hotel where Beverly and his partner Rodney (Berry) will be performing with the hopes of … no one really knows.

The press notes reveal that the script began as an email from Wike to Hosking of a Shane Danger scene, each subsequent reply expanding the action out. They admit they had no idea where they were going with it, only that they thought the shenanigans they built for these characters were hysterical. I get this happens sometimes. You throw a million ideas at the wall and see what sticks until a cohesive narrative is born. But the final result hews closer to those brainstorming sessions than providing evidence this particular nut was ever cracked. An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn becomes so intertwined with its love quintuple (or more) that it forgets to deliver a satisfying conclusion beyond a rushed, bow-tied coupling as unbelievable as it is safe.

That doesn’t mean it won’t find its audience. If The Greasy Strangler earned the pre-ordained cult following it found, this could too considering its recognizable cast and lack of vomit-inducing viscera makes it more accessible. Plaza and Clement are firmly planted within their respective wheelhouses; Robinson gives an interesting, almost wholly non-verbal performance; and Berry actually steals the show as the default “villain” once Hirsch’s Shane officially devolves into Captain of Hijinks. Because their awkwardness often feels a conscious effort, however, I’ll once again sing the praises of Dissanayake, Elobar, Cherry, and Jacob Wysocki as the hotel concierge. Their larger than life performances come without a shred of artifice and thus succeed whether you’re laughing with them or at them. I just wish I laughed more.


photography:
[1] Aubrey Plaza as Lulu Danger in the comedy “AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN” a Universal Pictures Content Group film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Content Group.
[2] Craig Robinson as Beverly Luff Linn in the comedy “AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN” a Universal Pictures Content Group film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Content Group.
[3] (L-R) Sam Dissanayake as Adjay Willis and Jemaine Clement as Colin Keith Threadener in the comedy “AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN” a Universal Pictures Content Group film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Content Group.

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