The Beta Test Review: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe Witness Hollywood Shower Death


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Jim Cummings tends to play the men who refuse to lose control. His characters to feel Similar, but so are many white, cisgender, straight, and millennial men – unable to wield power over their domain, they fight belligerently through this, their End Times. They find the closure by slapping around a corpse (Thunder road), or they turn to folklore and cryptozoology to explain a world they no longer understand at all (The Wolf of Snow Hollow). Everything is terrifying, everyone is watching, and the least noble thing any of them can do as the teeth rot in their mouths is rage against a universe that no longer wants them. So that’s what they do.

In The beta test, his feature debut with co-director / screenwriter PJ McCabe, Cummings is Jordan Hines, a dying Hollywood agent. As talent agencies battle the Writers Guild of America over “packaging deals” and the culture of his entire career turns away from him, Jordan receives a beautiful purple invitation in the mail promising a “free sex encounter. conditions with an admirer at the Royal Hotel. “Her marriage to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) looms, as everything that goes in the life of the millennial white man offers. Are her fantasies still ‘OK’? Why no one seems to care when Raymond (Wilky Lau), a potential big international client, aggressively grabs Jordan’s crotch at a party? a millennial white man cornered by obsolescence – or worse, an obsolescence that no one cares much about – is scratch and moan for crumbs of satisfaction Just any iota someone gives of what they want, matter.

So Jordan responds to the letter, filling out a checklist of his sexual preferences (“facesitting” gets a double check and circle for accent), and soon receives a key card for a hotel room. . Pulling on sweatpants and sneakers but still in a shirt and tie, the outfit of a paranoid man who will think the forensic evidence of his wrongdoing will most likely reside in the lower half of his body, he reluctantly walks into the room. and seems to be getting everything he bargained for (eg a lot of facesitting). But since he and, he assumes, his partner were blindfolded, he leaves exhausted and beaming, but with no real idea who just straddled his pretty face for a while.

His nervousness at the idea of ​​getting caught, combined with his desire to rediscover the identity of The Royal’s wife, gradually loosens him. He begins to hear things, to hallucinate, becomes more and more unstable and obnoxious as Caroline struggles to plan a wedding around her existential crises. He eventually confesses to his best friend and business partner PJ (McCabe, a restless balance of Cummings energy) that he lived with the secret banter: “Woman, I can’t even tell you… You know this something where there’s something different inside the universe, in the multiverse system, and that’s the only thing that’s different? It was like that. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. Likewise, cracks appear on the surface of reality: Jordan goes from a nightmare to a plate halfway by settling upside down on the floor; red alarms go off at the start of an important but awkward business meeting; clothes fall on his rented Tesla (which he claims to own) from the window (?) of an apartment complex, and he never seems to see the culprit; a woman in the background of a gunshot crushes a car with a baseball bat. There is also a spate of murders across LA of people linked to the purple letters. Everything is terrifying and everyone is watching.

As an excoriation of masculinity, there is not much to The beta test one that Cummings has never explored before, and the long takes and brave monologues that initially defined his voice as a filmmaker appear here, although more sublimated in the fabric of the film than in any previous feature film. And his mastery of the genre remains skilful but slippery. In a recent episode by Joe Dante and Josh Olson The films that made me, Cummings spoke about his passion for movies that start out as one thing and unexpectedly turn into something very different. The beta test is an erotic thriller as devoted as satire and a heartbreaking glimpse into a very specific dying breed of fake tinseltown. As Cummings told Jordan Cronk in an interview for Mubi’s Notebook, “It’s a comedy. It is a bit like South Park this way: if you can’t stand a joke then you are not cool. So many people find it funny and true to be educated. And it’s so well documented that I don’t know how much you can deny it.

In the same interview, Cummings discusses The beta testunique distribution model of, how he and McCabe have retained serious ownership over the film in a world built to bend filmmakers and creators to the whims of the indifferent few. It’s impressive how well they’ve been able to function and adapt in this desperate era of streaming, when their success is clearly the result of hard work and pathological self-preservation. Perhaps ironically, The beta test seems to come to a similar conclusion: this world is here for you. You must do what you can to protect all that is dear to you against the tide of the apocalypse.

Which is much funnier than it looks. With cinematographer Kenneth Wales, Cummings and McCabe set an anxious pace for Jordan’s endlessly confrontational frenzy through Los Angeles, yet concisely introducing a largely esoteric corner of our culturally rich everyday life. Against a skinny gender build, Cummings stammers, apologizes and yells at people and smashes things – constantly vaping – less a force of nature than a body of flesh and blood that half fails to contain the whining forces of nature within. His performance is a miracle of control and timing, focused on how little control Jordan has over his life, how badly everything seems to be timed. We’re often licensed with Jordan’s thoughts and musings – the repeated asskissing lingo that goes through his mind, mating rituals imagined as brutal viral videos – and when we’re not, Cummings face. contains multitudes. Interstitial shots of Jordan training while solving dilemmas in his head read like masterclasses in conveying the moral dilemmas and hilarious micro-gestures of a desperately horny man. Who among us has not respectfully look at while processing what we look at through every empathy filter in our already overloaded brains?

Because everyone is watching and everything is terrifying. The beta test never tries to refute how lame Jordan is, how inefficiently he inhabits this plane of existence, how baby he is, how useless he will be as the planet sinks into the kind of chaos where violence and forgetting only happen background. The movie only celebrates Jordan’s delusions for what exactly they are: the only way to deal with a universe that no longer wants people like him.

Directors: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
Writers: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
With : Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Olivia Grace Applegate, Wilky Lau, Kevin Changaris, Jacqueline Doke
Release date: November 5, 2021


Dom Sinacola is a Portland-based writer and editor. You can follow it on Twitter.


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