Director: Jim Hosking
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Craig Robinson, Jemaine Clement
Having been wooed by the exceptionally well assembled trailer, I snapped up a chance to partake in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn without doing any research. It was only in the ensuing week that a dread chill presented itself. This goofy-looking comedy starring Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement was from Jim Hosking, the ‘visionary’ behind The Greasy Strangler; a film which, if you check the hyperlink just there, you’ll discover I hated.
But even more-so than horror, comedy is the most fickle and subjective of genres. One man’s pleasure is another man’s poison etc. An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn is made up of a lot of the same ingredients as The Greasy Strangler. Kooky absurdism, infantile toilet humour, non-sequitors, repetitious swearing, circular conversations that lead nowhere… all accompanied by a plinky-plonky ever-squelchy accompaniment from composer Andrew Hung, whose scores for Hosking conjure daydreams of a party in a marshmallow factory.
But though the ingredients are familiar, the mix has been refined and, perhaps importantly, some new elements have been added to the blend… stars.
The aforementioned Plaza takes the lead as Lulu Danger, a bored housewife eager for an adventure away from lowlife fast-food restaurant manager Shane (Emile Hirsch). When Shane steals her brother’s cashbox, Lula double crosses him and absconds with it and a stranger named Colin (Jemaine Clement). Their destination? The Moorhouse Hotel for a cryptically anticipated evening with, yes, Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robertson). Also (ever) present is Luff Linn’s plutonic life partner, Rodney von Donkensteiger (Matt Berry). With crisscrossing hints of romance in the air, the stage is set for a particularly bizarre love… pentangle.
The above names bring a cache of credence to Hosking’s film, but they also bring significant experience, and the results are far more readily digested than those the director arranged previously. The supporting cast is still peppered with ‘unconventional’ faces and body shapes (a cadre that appear as though loosed from a Tim & Eric special), but the main players offer reassurance and confidence in equal measure. Deadpan deliveries are the order of the day, of course. Plaza and Clement are in their element, naturally, while Robertson’s titular character makes only constricted grunts and wheezes for the majority of the film.
The outlier is Emile Hirsch. Experienced, yes, but not necessarily in this kind of farcical fare. Credit to him; he gives it his all, though it’s often a little too much. Granted, that may be the point, but he does seem to be genuinely exerting himself whenever he’s on camera.
There’s a “let’s go for it” spirit that makes the strangeness easier to swallow. And Hosking – evidencing some level of ambition – is savvy enough to tone down the ‘ick’ factor to accommodate a wider audience. Some might see this as softening his edge. Personally, his was an edge that could withstand softening. The upshot is that the grossness and misogyny has been shorn away (if not wholly removed) for a brand of humour that’s more playfully weird.
There’s been a creative change-up, too. Perhaps Hosking’s writing partner for Luff Linn, David Wike, deserves some credit for the more palpable approach this time out? The film even has a small semblance of a structure.
But fear not, Luff Linn still carries the same sense of a couple of writers amusing themselves first and foremost and seemingly asking – without always knowing – “so what happens next?”. Running to nearly two hours, if you’re not taken by it, it’s going to seem awfully long. But for all its many dalliances there’s more of a suggestion this time out that the basic shape of the thing was actually planned.
That’s a cheap shot and a disservice to Hosking, who has ensured that his picture looks terrific. His crew has done him well, particularly where creative design is required. There’s a cosy glow and retro sheen to Luff Linn; not to mention an affinity for small, provincial hotels that haven’t quite made it out of the 70’s yet.
A key ingredient that I found sorely lacking last time (but which I found in abundance here) is this kitschy charm. Not all of the humour works all of the time, but the stuff that does stores up a lot of goodwill that gets you through the misfires. And there are a scattering of gems to be found, not least of which is the payoff to the film’s tantalising question; what constitutes an evening with Beverly Luff Linn?
In one of the (many) intros to the film recorded for its limited theatrical release, David Wike affirms that An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn has no message. This is pretty clear anyway, but it’s reassuring to save myself the agony of trying to comprehend one. It is meant, simply, to be fun.
There’s a tendency to diminish the importance of fun; that comedy is a low-stakes game. The reality is that it is always, always a high-wire act, and you can plummet at any moment. A memorable comedy film is a job well done.
I still question whether Hosking really has an affinity for the oddballs he populates his films with, or whether he much prefers laughing at them. But regardless of whether you love what he makes or loathe it – or switch from one to the other and back again – the cinematic landscape is better off for having people like him doing pratfalls in the margins, mixing it up.
I didn’t like The Greasy Strangler but I really quite liked An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn. Take from that whatever you like; there’s no message here.