Although I don’t quite know what’s going on, I’m having a great time, Lulu.
Jim Hosking wants to make you uncomfortable, as evidenced by his 2016 directorial debut The Greasy Strangler, a film so encased in its own filth that it wonderfully revels in it. Its bizarro-world-level inventiveness repulsed some and delighted others (this critic being among that latter bunch), with Rolling Stone fondly dubbing it “2016’s most disgusting movie.” In the film, Hosking unleashed a squirm-inducing cinematic environment so entirely apart from those that movie-going audiences were accustomed to, and yet it was hard to not draw the first comparisons that came to mind. Names like John Waters and Tim & Eric have frequently been thrown around as being similar absurdist provocateurs, but despite such low-hanging fruit, Hosking’s warped worlds remain utterly, and unequivocally, his own.
Thus, there is something so undeniably enchanting about the garish reality of The Greasy Strangler, and in turn of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, the newest unholiness from the mind who envisioned a grease-ensconced serial killer, littered with lead and supporting characters that behave in ways akin to figments of a half-remembered nightmare. Part of the morbid charm of these films is the fact that they are even films at all, a reminder that art is allowed to disturb your refined sensibilities and force you to shift in your seat for no reason other than because it can. And while Hosking’s signature sense of cringe is still adeptly imbued throughout, his sophomore feature has a softer side; a tenderness not necessarily absent from his first film, but one which his second wholly embraces, while never once forsaking the weirdness that defined him as a director in the first place.
When we first meet Lulu Danger (a fittingly deadpan Aubrey Plaza), she’s been making her modest living working for her shit-bird husband Shane (Emile Hirsch, absolutely living in his campy, espresso-peddling schlub of a character) at the fast food-adjacent restaurant “Bob’s,” where he manages selling cappuccinos in plastic cups topped with froth that’s squirted from a bottle like foaming soap. Lulu works alongside Shane’s two other employees doubling as henchman, Carl and Tyrone (Greasy Strangler co-lead Sky Elobar and newcomer Zach Cherry, respectively), when a visit from a higher-up leads to Lulu being let go by Shane due to cutbacks. This understandably puts a strain on their already sterile marriage, as Lulu now spends the majority of her days lazing on the couch under a knit blanket, chain-smoking herself silly.
During a lover’s quarrel one night, Lulu viciously lets it slip that her brother, Adjay (Sam Dissanayake, another Greasy Strangler alum), has a bigger cash box than Shane (who doesn’t have a cash box at all, actually). That’s all it takes for Shane to decide that he, accompanied by cronies Carl and Tyrone, will put on terrible party store wigs and sunglasses and rob his own family member of a precious, fuzzy cash box. But it’s not long into their criminal turn before Adjay realizes that underneath that synthetic hair and those cheap shades is his two-timing brother-in-law, who nonetheless escapes with the cash box intact.
Distraught and unclothed, Adjay airs his grievances in a laundromat to an unsuspecting man named Colin Threadener, a soft spoken Jemaine Clement donning yellow-tinted glasses and Lord Farquaad hair. In his sympathy for Adjay, Colin agrees to reclaim the cash box in exchange for a $200 cut – but things don’t really go as planned. Despite arriving armed at the Danger house and being accidentally invited inside to boot, Colin ends up held at gunpoint with his own weapon by Lulu, who demands he retrieve the cash box, get in his car, and drive away with her. Prior to these events, Lulu, while enduring another monotonous day acquiring lung cancer on the couch, had witnessed an ambiguous television ad for an upcoming event entitled “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn,” advertised by the man himself (Craig Robinson, goofy as ever). This ad had suspiciously piqued her interest and led us into her bedroom, where she revealed sets of photographs, hidden in her panty drawer, of Lulu being affectionate with that same mysterious Beverly Luff.
So, under Lulu’s direction and Colin’s duress, the newfound friends find themselves at an establishment called the Moorhouse Hotel, which is, more-than-coincidentally, the prestigious venue for the esteemed Beverly Luff Linn (the lobby of which features a cardboard cut-out of Beverly with intermittently glowing red eyes). Not long after arriving, they encounter the man of the hour accompanied by one Rodney von Donkensteiger (Matt Berry), Beverly’s close friend and confidant, and it is there at the Moorhouse Hotel that the central tensions of the film begin to unfold; Lulu working through her unknown, unresolved association with Mr. Beverly, as all she can do is twitch and jerk around wordlessly before his very presence, while evading retribution from her snot-nosed husband and betrayed brother-in-law. At the same time, Lulu must skirt around the relationship forming between her and her “hostage,” Colin, as both they and the guests of the hotel endure postponement after postponement of the anticipated Evening, by a Beverly seemingly at odds with both himself and with Mr. von Donkensteiger.
Part of the unease woven within the fabric of Hosking’s first film, The Greasy Strangler, comes from the awkward acting of a cast of majority unknowns, and this only plays to the film’s benefit. Watching these people behave in ways that are almost-but-not-quite human adds to the inherent uncanniness of the film; in Beverly Luff Linn¸ however, it becomes all too apparent as soon as Emile Hirsch and Aubrey Plaza hit the screen that we are witnessing the efforts of seasoned, talented actors, and it almost hinders the film – until it doesn’t. Plaza and Clement are soon right at home, Plaza’s renowned dryness thriving within this perverse landscape, and the chemistry formed between her and Clement’s quiet absurdity is palpable (it also doesn’t hurt that the pair play otherworldly co-conspirators in the FX series Legion). It’s hard not to laugh when Robinson, who isn’t given much to say at first, evokes only guttural purring as his sole form of communication for the bulk of the film, and Hirsch seems to be having the time of his life portraying the impish, coked-out Shane.
In fact, all of the actors in Beverly Luff Linn seem to be having fun with their weird little film, and their commitment to the absurdness of their characters never feels forced or unnatural. The only person who doesn’t quite feel bizarre enough for this world is Matt Berry’s Rodney von Donkensteiger, played a little too straight, but whose occasional turns to the abnormal are made that much more charming. Also: Maria Bamford shows up, and Maria Bamford is fucking awesome, and it would be a waste not to give a huge shout-out to the actor who plays the Moorhouse Hotel concierge Lawrence (Jacob Wysocki), who had this critic rolling whenever he opened his mouth.
Once past that initial acting hurdle, the film settles smoothly into its surreal self, boasting humor that is both absurdist and infantile. It’s all anchored by an infectiously synth-drenched score that drones and hums and totally captivates, while solidifying the tone of the film as offbeat, unnerving, and, at the same time, melancholic. It is a testament to the direction and writing of Hosking and co-writer David Wike to create a film full of poop jokes that also serves as a thoughtful look at the confusing nature of love and friendship. And unlike The Greasy Strangler, which seemed to celebrate a delightful kind of nastiness, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn shelters only warmth underneath its polarizing wrappings. Some other stray thoughts: it’s impossible to leave the film without wanting every item of clothing in Lulu’s retro-weird wardrobe, and there’s a scene towards the end so beautifully colored and mesmerizingly composed it is nothing if not hypnotic.
It is refreshing to immerse oneself in a world that doesn’t play by the rules of our own, that doesn’t succumb to the normal consequences of human action and throws logic entirely to the wind. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be opposed to fleeing the universe that we know in favor of somewhere new; seeking refuge in a world far more absurd than our own, but whose absurdity, somehow makes far more sense. After a while, the normalcy of even the most inventive films becomes trite, and there is a wonderful sense of escapism that comes with diving into the creations from minds that envision a tilted realm of the utmost deviance, without ever abandoning humanity at the heart of it all. It would be cliché to say that Hosking’s second effort is not for everyone, because the film is more than its otherness from the mainstream. It’s horrible, it’s beautiful; it’s a dream, it’s a nightmare. But above all, it’s An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, and it’s for one magical night only.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs