Why Did I Watch It? Lockdown film club selection
In middle America, a coffee shop owner with anger management issues fires his wife, Lulu, right as an old flame of hers comes to town. This is Beverly Luff Linn (two words), an… artist, possibly, who can only communicate via grunts, and who is going to perform…. something, for one magical night only. Aiding Lulu, sortof, is Colin, an earnest misfit who should’ve been named ‘Keith’, and who has never fully recovered.
After the niche cult acclaim for ‘The Greasy Strangler’, director Jim Hoskins returns with another strange and unusual universe of his own creation. Everything in AEWBLL is askew. The characters, Lulu excepted, are all different variations on grotesque; fat, old, weirdly proportioned, freakishly unattractive. They wear gaudy clothes from another era’s thrift store, and wigs that would have been out of place in any era. It is the theatre of the absurd, with every dial cranked to 11.
The tone is set in the opening scene; Steve Danger (Emile Hirsch) snarls at his coffee shop employees (one ancient, one overweight, both idiots), Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza) looks bored, someone ‘breakdances’ weirdly for no reason. Everything you need to know is right here; if you are chuckling at this point, and the film clearly has its fans, you will enjoy the rest.
I like absurdist humour, and the comedy of exaggeration, but this did not click for me. There is a one note-ness to the film that drains the life out of it; it only does one thing, and does it over and over. It’s like that Family Guy joke where Peter hurts his leg, only it lasts for two hours. Apart from Lulu, the characters are not real characters, they are so cartoonish that you could not invest in them even casually, which makes the whole charade kinda pointless. It is so relentlessly vacuous I wondered if THIS was the idea: a piece of outsider art, about the meaninglessness of doing anything. I could kinda get behind that, but I think I was just bored; inventing themes that were not present.
It picks up a little towards the end. The only thing I actually laughed at was BLL’s performance. Having postponed his ‘magical evening’ several times due to a stomach complaint, when he does actually take the stage there is an amusing bit of misdirection. The film has lead you to believe he will give a speech maybe, or read poetry, something highbrow. What he delivers instead are folksy singalong songs, which are quite funny.
The film also reaches for an emotional climax. Lulu had a fling with BLL years beforehand, and has fixated on him since. While she is still attracted to him, she is also married, and now has Colin following her like a love sick puppy. Trying to sort out this tangle will require some emotional development, and the film dramatically switches tones as the characters talk about their feelings. But not having invested in them properly earlier, the first 90 minutes sacrifices everything for the lols, makes this just feel like a cheap attempt to wrong foot the audience. It is BLL singing folk songs, only with the veneer or seriousness.
The whole film is like that. Strip away the bad costumes and wigs, and what is left: a very conventional story. A young woman turns her dream partner into this perfect, mythic figure, and ignores the dedicated guy by her side who really cares about her; Pretty in Pink with an ugly aesthetic. While this film might come across as original, all of that is on the surface. Real originality is more exciting when you have fresh and imaginative ideas, delivered with the seeming appearance of normalcy, creeping up on you like a Trojan Horse.
I did like it when they danced to ‘Words’ though.
And if you watch that opening scene and laugh, you’re in for a treat.