It’s no secret that it’s a land laced with overcompensation, low self-esteem and inferiority complexes. The acting doesn’t just stop with the actors. It seems like everyone is playing a part, building their images with lies and deceit in order to appear more power and influential than they really are. Hollywood is somewhat in on the joke about itself, but whenever it decides to tackle self-commentary it’s done with little earnest towards critiquing itself. For a better dissection, it takes someone whose been on the inside but operates outside Hollywood’s reach.
And in this case, it takes someone who can manage playing a character on the verge of a public breakdown every second.
Jim Cummings is the man for the job, as he has been able to produce fantastic narrative films without selling his soul to the corporate machine but still being close enough to the ecosystem to be able to accurately satirize it. I love Cumming’s work, as evident in my review of The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Thunder Road is nothing short of a masterpiece in my eyes, and while the aforementioned werewolf film doesn’t exactly match it, it’s still a hell of a fun time. Now Cummings is back with a new film tackling all sorts of issues, which also happens to be it’s main issue.
The Beta Test is more of what I love from Cummings; an outlandish lead performance, off-beat humor, and an apparent drive to produce quality that sometimes millions of dollars couldn’t even buy. The film is darkly funny and introspective of the current status of the entertainment industry, our public identities, lust, and the internet. If this sounds like a lot to cover in 90 minutes…that’s because it is. The film tries to say so much when it really could have benefitted from saying one thing. Not every concept or analysis necessarily sticks, which can make the film feel jumbled at times. Yet, it’s strong story and entertaining really save the film, but I do have to wonder how much longer more of this same style will still remain fresh with each passing film.
Jordan Hines (Jim Cummings) is a Hollywood agent with a lot on his plate, including his upcoming marriage and the potential signing of a huge international client. His world is thrown for a loop one day when he receives a fancy, regal looking invitation from an unknown source. Inside is an opportunity; a one night, no strings attached, anonymous sexual encounter with a secret admirer. While he discards the invitation at first, the thrill of this potential experience hangs in his mind. A day later he goes through with it, getting it on with an unknown woman at a hotel while both are blindfolded. The experience gives him a spring in his step, but he soon begins to think deeper about the invitation and who is behind it. Driven by the crushing fear of being caught, Jordan sets out to uncover the conspiracy of the letters while trying to maintain his sanity.
If you’ve seen Cumming’s performances before, you know he excels at embodying neurotic, manic characters with pent up rage and usually a vice that comes back to bite them. There isn’t much of a difference in Jordan, except maybe that he’s not a cop like Cumming’s last two lead performances (although he does impersonate one). Yet he’s a complex character that I’m sure many can find pieces of themselves in. His ego tends to fool even himself, presenting himself as a hot shot agent capable of convincing anyone to sign the dotted line. His beliefs about himself are constantly challenged which only increases his outward anger towards the people around him, such as when a big name client belittles and emasculates him in front of others. More time is spent on his image than perhaps his job, renting a Tesla he claims to own and buying a $10,000 painting to impress a client. His decision to go through with his anonymous affair is another aspect of him that I found interesting; living in his own imagination, believing every woman that looks at him wants it bad. Because of his obviously low self-esteem, he finds this pull of lust and desire too powerful to ignore. “I want you” is a powerful request for many to deny, especially one as two-faced as Jordan. His entire journey is an attempt to save his own skin, not to right the wrongs he committed. It’s a downward spiral that makes him less of a hero and more of a protagonist in the long run, but Cumming’s energy is undeniable magnetic, keeping you invested in the long run whether he wins or not.
In between Jordan’s blight is a lot of discussion on the entertainment industry in an ever evolving world it seems to be unable to keep up with. WGA packaging fees, Weinstein and Sony Leaks are all namedropped as elements that are forcing the industry to change. Now, as someone who has worked on a total of 3 television shows and 1 movie in a position I commonly and lovingly refer to as “glorified janitor”, I’m fairly far from completely understanding the ins and outs of the industry and products I critique, but it’s easy to see what the film is getting at. It’s a race, a game, a war and a way of life for people like this. It envelopes their lives to the point where they can’t even begin to care about their friends and family around them. Just look at the way Jordan talks; spitting out corporate buzzwords that obviously carry zero weight both inside and outside the boardroom. He’s always out to get ahead, and not just in a professional sense, as his venture into adultery is just another example of him telling himself he’s more desired than he believes.
The film goes full Network, tearing down the establishments that seem to have a grip on modern consensus. With so many targets in the crosshairs, it’s not too unexpected that it doesn’t manage to meaningfully hit all of them. There’s so many ingredients thrown into the conspiracy of anonymous Hollywood sex that the narrative begins to feel stretched incredibly thin by the climax. The story tries to encapsulate so many connected ideas without really understanding where it can take the story, creating a scatterbrained ride that both bloats itself and creates a dizzying ride not unlike the one we find Jordan in. By the end it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of critique the film is trying to make. Hollywood is full of self-centered asshats? Sure, but we’ve known that, even well before Weinstein was booted. The majority of individuals would throw away their established relationships for one night of lust? Maybe, but it doesn’t really get deep enough into the “why” outside of surface level superficialness. Before you can even figure out where the film is trying to take you…it ends, rather anti-climactically at that. We leave the story with a bit too much uncertainty left in the air, causing me to want more but not in the good way. Its a big time story with a small time presentation, as the film looks disappointingly flat for Cummings’ third feature. It worked for the small scale of Thunder Road, but it really doesn’t fit the hyperactive pacing and editing of this film.
I’ve got to give credit to Jim for being ambitious, even if the film is a bit too ambitious for it’s own sake. It feels like a natural progression for him story wise, yet it lacks the fine tuning needed to really make this the biting satire it wants to be. Nevertheless, Cummings has once again created a very funny, very dark film that might not have the approachability needed to pull in the average audience, but I still recommend checking this one out. Think of it as if the cast of Entourage got looped into the plot of Eyes Wide Shut, but up the male toxicity and mental breakdowns. It’s not a film where you can find redemption or emotional change, but sometimes its just fun to watch the world crumble around those who deserve it.
Sometimes we find ourselves giving into our primal instincts when the allure is just too strong. That’s what I wanted to emphasize with this drink, but I also wanted to emphasize the primal instincts I’m talking about is drinking. Don’t get any weird ideas with this one.
The Invitation brings you in for a classy, potent blend of floral and fruit elements with a velvety, royal purple sheen. Similar to the classic Aviation cocktail in both appearance and name, this variation opts away from the maraschino and instead finds itself lightly bodied by the addition of the lemon and ginger vermouth. To get this drink looking as pretty as it can be, I recommend using the popular Empress brand gin to really get that beautiful purple. If you find yourself missing the maraschino, have no fear, as a skewered cherry rests right by your nostrils to give you not only the sweet aroma, but a nice after cocktail snack. I went a little crafty with this one and wrapped the cocktail in purple ribbon, furthering heightening it’s alluring appearance.
Enjoy! Hopefully it leaves you waking up on the right side of the bed. Or whatever it is Jaclyn said.
- 2oz Empress gin
- 1/2oz creme de Violette
- 1/2oz lemon and ginger bianco vermouth
- 1-2 dashes lavender bitters
- Garnish: Cocktail cherry
- Decoration: Purple ribbon
- Shake ingredients in a shaker with ice.
- Strain into a chilled coup glass.
- Using two strands of ribbon, wrap around the top and bottom of the glass to create an “X” across the top of the drink.
- Pierce a cocktail cherry with a toothpick, then pierce the center of the “X” with the toothpick until the cherry rests on top of it.