HBO may not consider The Leisure Class to be the ninth episode of Project Greenlight, but in many ways this is the true season finale, because it puts so many of the battles we saw play out over the eight regular episodes in context. It’s hard to imagine anyone tuning in to tonight’s premiere of the movie who hadn’t been watching the show all along since it has no pedigree aside from being “the Project Greenlight movie.” For those of us who watched director Jason Mann fight for his creative vision while Effie Brown and the other producers and executives struggled to keep the picture on time and on budget, the finished product evokes one reaction above all others: They were fighting over this?
That doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the history of the show and the glimpses we got of The Leisure Class during its production, but it’s still a disheartening experience to actually sit through the movie. In one interview last week Mann said, presumably with a straight face, “Two of the filmmakers that were a big influence on ‘Leisure Class’ were [Pier Paolo] Pasolini and [Luis] Buñuel.” That lines up with his persona on the TV show as the uncompromising artist decrying commercial considerations in favor of a nuanced, rarefied brand of filmmaking, but it has nothing to do with the movie he ended up making. Whether he really believes the finished product matches his inflated rhetoric or he’s just saying the right things until his publicity duties are discharged, Mann has made a movie that has more in common with Two And A Half Men than The Exterminating Angel.
Greenlight viewers have gleaned much of the plot already: William (Ed Weeks) is a con man posing as a seasoned nonprofit executive in order to bilk Senator Edward Langston (Bruce Davison) out of money earmarked for his pet charity. Along the way, William has fallen in love with Langston’s daughter Fiona (Bridget Regan), and they are set to be married as the movie begins. When William’s loose-cannon brother Leonard (Tom Bell) crashes the rehearsal dinner, he threatens to derail all of William’s carefully laid plans. In the process, he exposes the ugliness at the heart of the Langston family because, as it turns out, privileged people have problems, too.
Those who have followed this saga from the beginning also know that The Leisure Class is based on a short film; indeed, the feature-length version makes a compelling argument that it was short for a reason. At 85 minutes, it feels impossibly padded and repetitive. Once the dynamic between Leonard and William is established, it never varies. Bell comes in at 100 percent right from the jump and there’s no room to modulate Leonard’s annoying energy; at the other end of the spectrum, Weeks remains dry and low-key throughout, which is appropriate given that William is one of the most passive protagonists imaginable. He’s not exactly unlikable, it’s just that he doesn’t offer much to grab onto in terms of emotional investment.
All of the complaints about Fiona’s character we heard from almost everyone in Project Greenlight are right on the money, but it’s not as if the other female characters are any better. Fiona’s two sisters are never developed beyond The Wild Child and The One Who Got Away, and the late introduction of an “earthy” prostitute goes nowhere—it’s as if she’s wandered in from one of Woody Allen’s later, particularly out-of-touch movies. Bruce Davison goes full hammy in the role of the patriarch who turns out to be a psycho, but the scene in which he terrorizes Leonard and William in the basement packs no punch, partially because we’ve already seen so much of it on Project Greenlight, but mainly because the brothers don’t come off as particularly terrified by this turn of events. You can see the vague outlines of what Mann was going for here—the sort of lighthearted farce that deepens into nightmarish black comedy as the night progresses, an After Hours or Something Wild kind of vibe. He doesn’t come close to pulling it off, though, and it’s not just because the car crash isn’t spectacular enough.
For the most part The Leisure Class looks fine, although the photochemical nuances of celluloid were perhaps not best served by viewing an online screener on my computer monitor. The transitions between night and day work well enough, but despite the extra expense, the driving scenes look fake (I’m not sure Weeks ever glances at the road ahead) and might as well have been green-screened. The insert shot in which Fiona says the line suggested by Len Amato is noticeable, but it’s not as if that writing sticks out like a sore thumb. The dialogue is on the nose throughout, with characters saying exactly what they’re thinking, particularly in the reconciliation scenes near the end. (I’m guessing Pete Jones is largely responsible for the maudlin injections of “heart.”) Armchair psychologists can feel free to draw a line between the unconvincing behavior on the screen and Jason’s awkward attempts at human interaction on the show, but the bottom line is that the script just isn’t good enough—and it definitely isn’t funny enough. The Leisure Class is enough to make you wonder if passing on Not Another Pretty Woman was the right move after all.
- Fear not, the line “I’m going to make you lick each other’s assholes” made it into the final cut intact.
- My favorite performance in the movie belonged to Rory Knox Johnston as the exasperated butler Reynolds. I would have liked to see more of whatever he was up to.
- I did enjoy Bell and Weeks riffing about immortality just before they parted, but that was way too little, way too late.