Moviegoer: The Beta Test

A smarmy agent can’t control a changing world in this scathing satire

By Diana Beechener

The Beta Test is available for rental on-demand

Jordan Hines (Jim Cummings: Halloween Kills) is living his best life. He’s a powerful Hollywood agent, he’s got a gorgeous fiancée, and he spends his days working out and partying with glamorous rich clients. It’s the glittering life that everyone aspires to—money, good looks, and picture-perfect outings.

         But if you look beyond the Instagram profile, things are pretty bleak. Jordan’s day is a constant stress. His powerful clients abuse him, he’s not making that much money, he spends his days fighting with the Writers Guild of America so he can make more money off underpaid writers, and his only real sense of power comes from verbally abusing his harried assistant Jaclyn (Jacqueline Doke: Satan’s Seven). Even Jordan’s gleaming teeth are fake—he uses whitening strips to keep the visible teeth pretty, but his mouth is literally full of rot.

         When Jordan gets an invitation inviting him to a no-strings-attached liaison with his “perfect match”, he jumps at the opportunity. Though the blindfolded tryst is amazing, and his fiancée seems none the wiser about it, the idea that there’s an anonymous person who could destroy his life eats at Jordan. His obsession gets the better of him and soon Jordan is spiraling, tearing his own life apart to find out who sent him the invitation.

         Cummings and co-writer/director/star PJ McCabe are clearly not interested in joining the Hollywood establishment anytime soon. This biting satire of the frat-boy agent culture that overwhelms Hollywood is a hilarious, if unfocused film. Cummings and McCabe take no prisoners, the agency Jordan works for is abbreviated APE for a reason.

         Unlike the satires of Adam McKay, The Beta Test isn’t interested in holding your hand—or sitting Margot Robbie in a bathtub—to explain all of the things it’s mocking. The film is a biting look at agents and companies that exploit talent for profit, but only if you keep up with trade news. If you don’t, it’ll be hard to understand references to the packaging deal practices the WGA is fighting (in short it’s another way to underpay writers for their contribution to billion-dollar studio projects).

         But the real joy of The Beta Test isn’t the “inside baseball” the film discusses, it’s Cummings’ performance. No one working today does “man having a nervous breakdown” quite like Jim Cummings. His frazzled, tense, aggressively happy Patrick Bateman-esque Jordan is wholly unlikeable, but utterly wonderful to watch. Jordan is a man who feels his control slipping with every new day. He tells Jaclyn he can’t yell at her the way he wants because “of the direction the country and the firm are going”, he laments that everyone still wants to be Weinstein, and he immediately falls back on “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” whenever he encounters the least bit of resistance.

         The real brilliance of The Beta Test is its perspective. We’ve had two films this year that I’m dubbing “As a Director of Women” films—movies where male directors try to explain how women experience inequality. Instead of trying to assume the women’s POV, Cummings uses the male POV to show the ridiculous disparity in the film industry. He’s a man desperately trying to keep the freewheeling power he’s been promised. He was promised Mad Men and is given #MeToo. His twitching, shrieking downfall is, frankly, pretty fun to watch.

         While the movie has plenty of teeth, the plot is a little wobbly. The conclusion of the film seems like a shrug instead of an ending and it doesn’t quite know how to focus all the vitriol it’s extolling. Still, there’s a lot to admire with such a vicious satire, and if you’re interested in the industry or just watching Cummings’ excellent performance, it’s well worth a watch.

Good Satire * Unrated * 93 mins.