A warning: Those who buy a ticket for Jim Hosking’s An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn looking for gross delights in the vein of the director’s last feature, The Greasy Strangler, will most likely be sorely disappointed.
There isn’t any eyeball-eating or decapitation or, hell, grease to be found within this film’s 108 minutes, and outside of a few vaguely icky moments, it’s pretty close to what you’d find on Adult Swim in the wee hours of the morning, directed by Tim Heidecker or Eric Wareheim. That’s the comparison I keep coming back to when thinking about Beverly Luff Linn: It’s got tons in common with the of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!; its comfort in putting celebrities in awkward positions (though not the star of the whole shebang, Aubrey Plaza, who has excelled in projects outside of the comfort zones of most), the light scatological humor that never truly dips into the realm of the truly gross, and the pacing, which allows gags to run on and on and on for minutes at a time until they eventually find a weird way into being funny all over again. But Wareheim and Heidecker were able to keep their sketches as brief as the gags themselves and concern themselves more with the textures of the material they were trying to homage/emulate/rip off, and Hosking has a movie that’s both 15 minutes longer than his last and feels every second of it.
So what’s a guy to do? Well, the director adds a boatload of sweetness to his mixture, and it builds to an ending that, while also both dramatically fucked up and sad, feels earned and interesting. Call it Hollywood normalization (though it’s hard to believe that’s the case, given that the film is about as anti-commercial as it gets aside from the names in the cast) or a retreat into stoner cinema (though a dismissive accusation by John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter gave the marketing team representing the film the chance to win Sundance by offering to smoke up any members of the press attending a public screening), Hosking is doing what he wants to, and in the process he crafts some minor moments of bliss amongst the flailing gags. He’s got about a coin-flip’s chance that a gag will land and there are some truly funny moments, but the run-on jokes generally grate.
Plot here is generally incidental: Lulu (Plaza) is having trouble adjusting to life as a bored housewife following her dismissal from her job at a fast food restaurant run by her husband, Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch), who is himself envious of the success of Lulu’s vegan half-brother Adjay (Sam Dissanayake). Adjay has a cash box stuffed away somewhere in his store, so Shane and a group of idiots from his work decide to rob him, and it goes off mostly without a hitch, though Adjay hires a loner named Colin (Jemaine Clement). Meanwhile, Lulu sees a commercial for an event titled “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn for One Magical Night Only,” and is drawn to it. She may have some history with Beverly (Craig Robinson), but it’s enough to force her into action. So, Lulu kidnaps Colin as he attempts to retrieve the cash box, and then steals the money from her husband at gunpoint, and they go on the lam to see the mysterious Beverly Luff Linn.
The Hollywood talent that Hosking’s attracted — Clement, Robinson, Hirsch — all put in work well worth their paychecks. Clement is in his own little bizarre thriller, as the muscle who has the behavioral control and emotional stability of a five year old, and he’s frequently hilarious. Robinson’s performance is mainly confined to agonized grunts, but he has a great rapport with the rest of the cast, including Matt Berry, who plays Beverly’s “platonic” lover and tour manager. Hirsch commits the most to what I think Hosking steered him towards: He’s got a deliriously goofy gait that’s only accentuated by his baggy-ass clothes and his ludicrous way of speaking, and he also fits in the best with the rest of the non-actors in the cast, which is why Hosking probably surrounded him with them. They do their best with the material, but Beverly Luff Linn drags throughout and occasionally feels rudderless, and I might have walked out of the film if it weren’t for the biggest name in the cast and the brightest light in the whole damn work, Aubrey Plaza.
Plaza has a way of sanding the rough edges off of Hosking’s work, and she’s got a scene in here that, while funny, is also seriously and painfully moving as well (the specifics of which are pretty integral to the plot itself, so I won’t reveal them here). It’s taken me years and years and years to get to this point, but I feel safe saying that she’s one of the best actresses, comedic or otherwise, of her generation. Her disaffect isn’t anything more than a tic that all other actors have to overcome, whether it’s a particularly goofy face you make in most of your movies or a loud dumb voice that you somehow shifted to in the ’80s and never looked back from.
And here, she’s the glue that holds the scenes together. I don’t know if Beverly Luff Linn is a particularly good movie or a funny one at that, but it’s a weirdly captivating and vigorously weird anti-romcom that is worth recommending (well, to those who have some idea what they’re getting themselves into) just for Plaza’s work alone.
Nick Johnston is running amok at Sundance. Follow him @onlysaysficus. Featured ‘Lizzie’ image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.