My friend and Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson had a pretty good tweet about An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn back when it was playing in the Sundance Festival earlier this year. He compared its summary blurb to a Park City–specific algorithmically generated idea of what a movie should be, and it’s not an unfair comparison if we’re talking about the past 15 post–Napoleon Dynamite years of the festival. But to be perfectly accurate, the vibe of self-conscious cult-baiting that director Jim Hosking (The Greasy Strangler) resides in is rather anachronistic at this point, and it’s a little shocking that it made it far enough to the point of being released to the general public. Greasy may have been more out-and-out off-putting, but Beverly is worse: an empty facsimile of quirk.
Beverly assures you early on that it will be going no deeper than a millimeter in its pursuit of the weird. A one-note-furious Emile Hirsch stalks the counter of a drab mid-century-styled coffee shop, and his cartoonish employees Tyrone (Zach Cherry), Carl (Sky Elobar), and Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) introduce you to the traits that will be their comedic calling card: fat and black, old with weird hair, and hot and grumpy, respectively. (I’ll admit that my radar went off early on when Cherry’s character was introduced as “Tyrone,” a catchall moniker for black men in the Reddit edgelord shitpost corner of the internet.) They do some weird dance moves, you can faintly hear the sound of a grip offscreen chuckling, “Oh, man, that’s so random, dude”; some of us might experience a brief unmooring in time, where we could swear we’re back in 2005 in an ironic fanny pack.
Hirsch’s Shane Danger gets the word from corporate that he has to fire one of his employees, so he picks Lulu, who we soon learn is his wife, and whose newfound home life leads her to catch a mysterious TV ad for “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn for One Magical Night Only.” This Beverly (Craig Robinson, a sensitive comic actor mostly limited to grunts and growls here) appears to be a man from Lulu’s past, and she escapes in pursuit of him, aided by vigilante do-gooder Colin (Jemaine Clement). They hole up at a fusty old hotel, lying in wait for Lulu’s old flame, while Colin works up the nerve to tell her he’s in love with her.
The core of Beverly is a rather done-to-death rom-com template: idealized relationship with the one who got away leads heroine to the guy she’s actually supposed to fall in love with. Hosking’s twist on that tale is to pile on beat after beat of self-consciously anti-comic writing and characterization, leaving no body exempt from becoming a punch line (except Plaza’s normatively attractive one), no race not ripe for the minstreling. A not-small thread of the convoluted plot involves Lulu’s “adopted vegan brother” Adjay, played by Sam Dissanayake, whom Hosking dresses in denim short-shorts and a bad hairpiece and has emit an airy screech to punctuate every scene, like someone saw Pagoda in The Royal Tenenbaums and thought, In hindsight, this was underappreciated! Let’s bring it back! It’s a comedy of ineptitude — of the characters as they are written on the page, but also of the filmmaking itself. Predictably, the cast members with name recognition fare better than those without.
The greatest sin of Beverly Luff Linn is that for all of its affectations, none of it is fun, and all of it feels simultaneously calculated and misanthropic. It knows a certain kind of ignorant and deeply boring viewer will declare it “outsider art” while also holding not much more than the bleakest contempt for that viewer. It sucks. It sucks that even the amount of time and attention and work hours required for a limited indie release such as this are burned up, never to be regained. I generally think that all art, even bad art, offers something back up to the world to be chewed over and learned from; Beverly Luff Linn just takes and takes and sucks and sucks.