Jason Mann/HBO

Who is the villain of Project Greenlight? If it were truly a docu-series showing what it really takes to make a movie, perhaps there wouldn’t be a villain at all—just people doing their best to collaborate on a project, occasionally butting heads but always striving toward the common goal. But as a reality show meant to entertain us on its own terms (regardless of whether the movie at its center is good or bad or if it was even worth making at all), having a villain is, if not a necessity, at least an asset. The season so far has been a polarizing Rorschach test, with both Effie and Jason having their supporters and detractors, but with “Hug And Release,” the show has finally made up its mind: Jason is the bad guy.

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Maybe it would have been different if The Leisure Class had turned out, against all odds, to be a great movie. The reviews it’s gotten so far suggest it isn’t, as does the behavior of nearly everyone involved in this episode. The producers find positive things to say, but there’s always a “but.” It’s not to Ben Affleck’s taste. A man-bunned Matt Damon says “there’s good stuff in it,” but he doesn’t find the lead character relatable. Effie has problems with the female lead, as does Len Amato, as do several people in the test audience. And Jason…well, there’s this one shot that’s underexposed and absolutely must be reshot.

This is the way the entire postproduction is framed in this final episode: Jason is so fixated on minor technical problems that he can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s the logical culmination of his quest to shoot on film; his attention to the aesthetic factors has distracted him from the major story problems in his movie. Thus, he doesn’t really have the best interests of The Leisure Class at heart after all; he has to be saved from himself by his producers and the executives at HBO. It’s a self-serving narrative for the network suits footing the bill for the show, and it neatly scapegoats Jason for the likely terrible movie they’re obligated to show tomorrow night.

There’s probably some truth to this narrative—maybe a lot of truth. Jason doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory at any point during the episode. When Effie reveals that she has some money saved from the shoot that can be used to do a day of pickup shots, his big reaction is to be annoyed all over again that they didn’t use the money for the car accident. Maybe he’s right to feel this way; a better way to have handled it at the time probably would have been to give Jason a choice between doing a more elaborate stunt and having money left for reshoots. Still, it was clear that money was only one concern over the car stunt and that safety was the bigger issue, and is there any doubt that Jason still would have wanted to do reshoots even if he’d made the decision to spend the money another way?

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This leads to one final confrontation with Effie, when she explains that there’s only a finite amount of time and money for the extra day, and that they can’t necessarily include the technical fixes on the shot list if they’re going to accommodate the agreed-upon story changes. She ends up walking off the movie, which means there’s at least one thing she and Peter Farrelly have in common. Maybe they can have a good laugh about it at the red carpet premiere.

Jason also butts heads with Len Amato over a line of dialogue meant to clarify the Fiona character’s motivation. Jason would rather the motivation be implied than stated outright, as the line Amato supplies is basically, “This is my motivation.” Jason tries to leave the shot off the schedule, but Len gets wind of him “pulling a fast one” and has it reinstated. I’m not really a huge supporter of network executives inserting their own dialogue into their talent’s work, but I do have to wonder: Since everyone basically agreed that Fiona’s character was weak and needed her arc clarified, why didn’t Jason write his own scene that would have accomplished that in a more subtle way? Leaving the scene off the shot list and hoping no one would notice doesn’t really strike me as the most creative solution.

More tension follows as Len gives notes on the final edit of the movie. Jason tells us he hopes in the future to do projects where he makes all his own decisions and doesn’t have to listen to anyone else. Well, no kidding. A lot of directors would like that, and a very few have it because the film business doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work the way we see it in Project Greenlight either, though. The way it’s set up, Jason was never going to the hero of this story. He was a bad fit from the beginning, which is why he was chosen in the first place. In the end, Project Greenlight leaves us only with this: the movie got made. There’s no sense of triumph before the credits roll, just the matter-of-fact completion of a process. The Leisure Class exists.

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Stray observations:

  • I guess it’s ballsy of HBO to show a test audience not laughing at a screening of the comedy they’re premiering the following night. I am curious to see just how “rarefied and nuanced” The Leisure Class is; I just hope there aren’t any underexposed shots in it.
  • “Let’s pick it up a little before defecation, guys.”
  • Season five, anyone?

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