'An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn': Film Review | Sundance 2018

A tries-too-hard quirkfest wasting some fine comedians' talents.

'Greasy Strangler' director Jim Hosking returns to Park City with a less fatty but still grotesque comedy.

It isn't often one walks into a filmmaker's sophomore Sundance feature praying he has sold out and abandoned his artistic vision. But then, it isn't often one encounters a film as tiresomely eager to offend as Jim Hosking's flaccid fithfest The Greasy Strangler, which stained Sundance screens in 2016. The good news in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn is that Hosking has gone Hollywood by hiring actual comic actors this time, including Aubrey Plaza and, as the titular Luff Linn, Craig Robinson. He has also, this time around, eschewed scenes of naked geriatrics slathered with lard. The bad news is, this strenuously weird film is about as pointless as the first. The surprising number of Sundancers who drank the Kool-Aid for the cult of Greasy should respond well to this; all others should steer clear.

Plaza plays Lulu, wife of diner manager Shane Danger. (Emile Hirsh, as Shane, emotes and moves as if he were acting in a silent film and all his costars had the advantage of sound.) Their seemingly loveless union hits a speed bump when Lulu sees a TV ad for something called "a magical evening with Beverly Luff Linn": Suddenly agitated where she once was listless, she seems resolved to attend the event.

She has no money to make the trip, but fate intervenes: Shane has stolen a box of cash from Lulu's brother, and when the brother hires a braggart he meets in a laundromat (Jemaine Clement's Colin) to retrieve the dough, Lulu is able to intercept him. For some reason, Lulu takes Colin along on her quest, booking a room with twin beds at the hotel hosting the "magical evening."

We come to understand that Beverly was once Lulu's boyfriend, which makes for an awkward situation when he arrives at the hotel: Beverly is accompanied by his new platonic life partner Rodney (Matt Berry), who guards him jealously; Lulu is fixated on getting Beverly alone; and Colin has fallen desperately in love with Lulu. Oh, and these days Beverly doesn't speak, he just grunts and growls all day. This is going to be one tough reunion. And we still have no idea what sort of show Beverly intends to put on.

In addition to encouraging his actors to forget most of what they've learned, Hosking's aesthetic here consists largely of gratuitously terrible hairstyles and wardrobe so ugly it had to be invented instead of rescued from a thrift-store dollar bin. Hosking and cowriter David Wike offer dialogue that's less annoying than Strangler's, but still don't feel the need to make jokes in order to earn laughs. In once scene, we're supposed to guffaw at ten uninterrupted seconds of an old man's tubercular cough; later, that non-gag gets a callback — longer this time, and with the addition of spat-up chunks of food.

As puerile and go-nowhere as the script is, Clement and Berry are more successful than their costars at making the dialogue their own. Clement even gets a laugh or two. But be assured that the pic's big reveal is not worth the wait. All this would probably play better with the assistance of some weed, but it would be irresponsible to review a film while intoxicated. And it would be irresponsible to let fans of Plaza, Robinson et al think they're getting anything like the stars' best on this magical Evening.


Production companies: Park Pictures, Wigwam Films, Rook Films
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson
Director: Jim Hosking
Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike
Producers: Sam Bisbee, Theodora Dunlap, Oliver Roskill, Emily Leo, Lucan Toh, Andy Starke
Executive producers: Jim Hosking, David Wike, Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, David Gordon Green
Director of photography: Nanu Segal
Production designer: Jason Kisvarday
Costume designer: Christina Blackaller
Editors: Mark Burnett, Nick Emerson
Composer: Andy Hung
Casting directors: Cody Beke, Seth White, Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT)
Sales: Mikey Schwartz-Wright, UTA

107 minutes