November 5th, 2021
MOVIE: THE BETA TEST
STARRING: JIM CUMMINGS, VIRGINIA NEWCOMB, PJ MCCABE, JESSIE BARR
DIRECTED BY: JIM CUMMINGS, PJ MCCABE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
It’s clear by now that Jim Cummings is a major voice in original filmmaking today. His voice is unique, his style ever changing, and his most recent film- The Beta Test might be his most complex. The director of Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow follows it up with a razor sharp inspection of relationships, infidelity, and temptation, where his Hollywood agent character finds a mysterious purple envelope in his mailbox, which states for him to reply with his deepest fantasies for a no-strings attached affair. Both parties are blindfolded, all discreet, and secretive, but of course there is a pesky thing called guilt, and when you’re close to being married, the mind can mess you up. The Beta Test is a mixture of dark comedy and psychologically creepy, in what is undoubtedly another unique output from the unshakeable Jim Cummings.
We meet the lead character Jordan (Cummings) sitting at dinner with his fiance Caroline (Virginia Newcomb), his best friend and coworker PJ (PJ McCabe) and his wife Lauren (Jessie Barr); While chatting, we see a glimpse into Jordan’s head, checking out the server, having a brief fantasy about a woman sitting at another table, and then coming back to the conversation with friends. Jordan and PJ work at a talent agency, living in Los Angeles, and often faking praise to get the next big client. When Jordan receives the mysterious letter, he’s confused, thinks it’s a cruel joke, but then he fills the card out, and his assistant mails it out for him. He receives another letter with a hotel key, a designated address, a blindfold, and a room number. Inside he meets with a woman and he engages in his wild fantasies with her. But when he can’t have it again, Jordan starts to lose himself, obsessed over where the envelopes came from, hellbent on finding the women who gave him this pleasure, and destroying his own relationship in the process.
On the surface The Beta Test is a dark comedy and in the center it is a horror film. It’s dealing with subject matter that feels current in the state for adults in relationships. The pressure of internet dating, the pressures of marriage, and the way that infidelity might look like today. That portrayal of Jordan’s infidelity is equal to a gnawing at his soul, where after he has done the deed of entering the hotel room, both his passion for another encounter, and his obsession of never being caught take hold. But it’s the character of Jordan that is more of a study, where his neurotic views made him think he could have it all, while being a stereotypical Hollywood agent that abuses his entitlement. It’s brought to life by Cummings performance, where his manic, motor mouthed man continues to be a major highlight of his style. To place Cummings with some of the greats may be premature, but the closest comparison that comes to mind is Charlie Chaplin, where Cummings is changing up the genres or settings, while still injecting his brand of multitasked dialogue. The character of Jordan is not just having conversations with people, but more just imaginary experiences with himself.
In the third act of The Beta Test the path for Jordan continues to spiral and eventually his fiance Caroline has had enough. It’s when her involvement becomes a focus where Beta Test starts to ramp up, where her side might not be as squeaky clean as we think, but she also might be the tough cookie that Jordan never viewed her as. It’s important for the writing for Cummings and PJ McCabe to have an equal performer that can play back and forth with the way Cummings delivers, and Virginia Newcomb is a worthy adversary to his style.
The question will be what type of emotions you feel watching The Beta Test. For me it was a lot of discomfort, a great fascination for the screenplays originality, and definitely disturbed. I often talk about the scariest thing in relationships is the sliver of unknown in a person, similar to David Fincher’s Gone Girl, where the darkest side of people can unleash in various ways. The Beta Test is a little bit like that, but it’s also something on it’s own, which is a dive into the wild mind of Jim Cummings. He’s once again proved his originality, The Beta Test will only get better over time, so I would say that he has passed every test.
THE BETA TEST IS PLAYING FRIDAY NOVEMBER 5TH, 2021 IN SELECT THEATERS AND AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATER IN CHICAGO.
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady