Director Jim Hosking‘s “The Greasy Strangler” caused such a polarizing reaction a few years back at Sundance that, whether you liked it or not, chances were that you were most likely intrigued by the director that came up with such a screwy narrative. It was just that kind of movie, a vision so insane that it had the whole festival talking despite the fact that many had not actually seen the film.
Hosking has followed up that movie with a tamer but no less unique endeavor, another neuro-eccentric, altogether weird dive into the deepest abyss of his brain. To explain what “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn” is about would also be to miss the point its director is trying to make. He seems to think that the pleasures of his film, and there aren’t many, derive from the monotone and deadpan delivery of the performances.
Aubrey Plaza plays Lulu Danger who, after being let go from her cappuccino shop by, of all people, her husband Shane Danger (a scene stealing Emile Hirsch), is transfixed by a TV commercial for “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only.” The commercial is absurd, using glowing neon lights reminiscent of tacky ’80s commercials, and reveals the mysterious Beverly (an odd deadpan performance from Craig Robinson who mostly grunts and groans his way through the film) who seems to have a mysterious, direct connection to her past.
At the Danger household, we see Lulu nostalgically staring at pictures of her and Beverly, in a seemingly happy past life they once had. Meanwhile, her husband concocts an awkward 7/11 heist, stealing the cashbox from Lulu’s adopted vegan Indian brother, Adjay (Sam Dissanayake), who consequentially hires a “specialist” (played by Jemaine Clement) to take back the money. When Clement shows up at the Danger house, demanding the money, Lulu runs off with him, cash box in tow, to search for Beverly. They arrive at the hotel where he is supposed to perform, but a problem arises, Beverly is accompanied by a bodyguard, Rodney (Matt Berry), who has a fixated man-crush on his employer.
Hosking and screenwriter David Wike wrote the loony screenplay with the intention to, no doubt, mess with audiences the same way they did with “The Greasy Strangler.” Their plan has failed. They remain intrigued by the grotesque but hit a sophomore slump with this embarrassing misfire.
What kind of “magical” performance will Beverly give at the hotel? Is he a comedian? A magician? An actor? It’s not much of an intriguing mystery and the film’s poker-faced sense of humor quickly turns one note and stilted. It doesn’t help that Hosking’s aesthetic is grainy, unattractive and encompasses dirt-filled frames. This is an ugly-looking movie, and, yet, it seems to be exactly what its director wanted it to look like. There are poo jokes, burp jokes, an old man’s random coughing bout, and even puking seems to amuse Hosking. It’s a film that you would, of course, expect from the director of such an entity as “The Greasy Strangler,” but, say what you will about that film, at least it wasn’t boring.
When all is said and done and the twists are revealed, there isn’t a single inspired note in the film. Hirsch is the only performer that escapes unscathed as he fully, adamantly in fact, invests himself in the vision his director is trying to create on-screen. It’s commendable on his part and it does work for the first few minutes but the thinness of the material becomes very apparent early on. Talented performers like Plaza and Robinson surely deserve better than “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn” and their director might not be able to recover from this. [D]