An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn first published by Sight & Sound, November 2018
Review: The title of Jim Hosking’s follow-up feature to The Greasy Strangler (2016) both references a reflexive entertainment-within-an-entertainment, and promises a uniquely pleasurable experience that, like the happiness of the films’ characters, keeps getting deferred. Posters have appeared all over town promoting ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’, a singular event to take place at the Moorhouse Hotel, deep in Anywheresville, USA. There is even a TV ad for the gig, seen by unhappy housewife Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza), who recognises in Beverly (Craig Robinson) the differently named professor with whom she had long ago had a passionate fling. So Lulu takes off for the Moorhouse with the money that her husband Shane (Emile Hirsch) had stolen from her vegan brother Adjay (Sam Dissanayake), and also with Colin Keith Threadener (Jemaine Clement), whom Adjay had hired to recover the money. Colin quickly fells in love with Lulu, even as she doggedly pursues Beverly, a large African American now in “a Platonic union” with his manager Rodney von Donkensteiger (Matt Berry) – and rumoured to be dead. Shane also circles the premises, looking for his wife and the money – but as Beverly’s show keeps being postponed, nobody is getting what they want, or even sure what that is anymore.
That sense of frustration, so crucial to An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, perhaps accounts in part for the film’s unwieldy length, as we too are made to wait – and wait – for a receding, rarefied satisfaction that will ultimately be delivered, if not quite as expected. As with his first feature, Hosking creates a hermetic world of oddball Americana, peopled with seedy grotesques and dressed up like a piece of hilariously unnerving outsider art. The recurrence of certain motifs here is near fetishistic. For example, Rodney claims that his father was a German shepherd, and that the concierge Lawrence Doggi (Jacob Wysocki) “look[s] more like a dog than some dogs I know”, and all sex scenes in the film are strictly doggy-style. Beverly’s expressions are mostly reduced to grunts and groans, and several scenes end with characters in coughing fits – indeed, everyone here struggles to communicate, and significantly, a climactic sequence is accompanied by F.R. David’s 1981 song Words (Don’t Come Easy). Not only is all the décor at the Moorhouse bizarrely Scottish-themed, but so, even more improbably, is Beverly and Rodney’s act, in a film where hopes and ideals are located in other times and places, and where identity (sexual, ethnic, etc.) is often a fluid construct.
There is a puerile fixation with poohs and farts – puerility being key to these somewhat one-note weirdos, kidults one and all in their immaturely impulsive yearnings and awkward dance moves. Once again, Andrew Hung provides the decidedly retro synth score – but Lulu must stop looking back if she is to find new love in the here and now. Indeed, for all its absurdist abjection, at its heart Hosking’s film is a rather sweet romance, with a meet-cute (at gunpoint), obstacles aplenty in the way of love, and a final, chaste declaration that makes the whole evening feel (low-key) magical.
Synopsis: Smalltown America. Fired from a coffee shop by her own husband Shane, Lulu Danger sees a TV ad for ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn’, and recognises Beverly as an old flame, presumed drowned. Aided by employees Tyrone and Carl, Shane steals a cashbox from Lulu’s brother Adjay. Adjay hires Colin Keith Threadener to recover the cashbox. Confronting Shane, Colin is persuaded by Lulu to run off with her and the money. They check in at the Moorhouse Hotel, where Beverly is due to perform. Beverly also checks in with his manager cum Platonic partner Rodney von Donkensteiger. Colin quickly falls for Lulu, but bores her with his childhood stories. Beverly’s stagefright-induced dyspepsia repeatedly leads to the show’s postponement. Lulu keeps being prevented from assignations with the grunting Beverly by a jealous Rodney. Colin is jealous too, and sex (his first ever) with a woman from the bar (who turns out to be a prostitute) does not allay his unrequited passion for Lulu. Shane finds an old picture of Lulu with Beverly, and heads to the Moorhouse to reclaim Adjay’s money. After the Scottish-themed show ends in a fight, Beverly (real name Edmund Summers) declares that his relationship with Lulu was not meant to be. Lulu dances with Colin in the bar, and later declares her love for him.