“The Beta Test” Is the Algorithmic “Eyes Wide Shut” for the Me-Too Era: Film Review

Over the last several years, writing, acting and directing triple threat, Jim Cummings, has grinded away on two indie films that have gained a small cult following: Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. However, despite its title, The Beta Test is anything but an experiment. This film is the culmination of Cummings’ previous efforts and an announcement to the world that he is a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

Cummings plays Jordan, a self-absorbed Hollywood agent who is more worried about his ulcer than adequately representing his firm’s clients. When Jordan receives an physical invitation for a no strings attached anonymous sexual encounter, his primal curiosity gets the better of him. As the encounter becomes mentally all consuming, Jordan discovers just how out of touch he is with the film industry and society as a whole.

While Jordan may not recognize the monumental transformation of the Hollywood agency game, Cummings and co-director PJ McCabe are perfectly in tune with the current quandaries in this rapidly changing landscape. The duo’s acerbic script tackles the question, “What do agents actually do?” amid a post-Weinstein film executive environment and does so with surgical precision. The packaging of intellectual property (IP) in an attempt for Jordan’s agency, APE, to stay relevant is particularly poignant given the ravenous hunger of streaming giants for branded content.

Even if you’re not in tuned with the latest workplace cultural developments out of Tinsel Town, the Hitchcockian elements of the anonymous sexual encounters are immensely satisfying. As Jordan follows the literal paper trail to its unexpected conclusion, Cummings and McCabe litter the film with red herrings and blink-and-you-miss-it gestures that reward repeat viewings. On an anecdotal note, The Beta Test’s ending was so fascinating to me that I began a second viewing immediately following my first to understand the intricacies of the plot.

While it might feel as though our world is seismically shifting every day, there is still one constant that has remained through every advance in history. Even in the digital age, human connection is vital to our survival as a species. The Beta Test is a film for today, combining the Me-Too movement with the pitfalls of social media. However, its message about our desires to have meaningful relationships, even if they’re blindfolded ones in a hotel room, ensures that The Beta Test will never lose its relevancy.

The Silver Lining

Jim Cummings plays Jordan Hines like a jack in the box that’s one crank from popping. Cummings takes gulp of heavy liquor and vape with a frantic fervor that lends itself perfectly to Jordan’s neurotic and crazed state. His comedic timing is impeccable as well, especially when he attempts to impersonate law enforcement, and his interactions with his mousy secretary. Whenever a film production needs to fill the role of an insecure and unhinged schmuck, they should have Jim Cummings on speed dial.

The Beta Test plays in select theaters and on video on demand this Friday, November 5th.

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