The Leisure Class ★½

I loved Project Greenlight this year, in many of the same ways I wrote about in my ME AND EARL review a few days ago: as much as I disliked Jason Mann As Presented On Project Greenlight, as a sometime filmmaker myself I saw him going through the exact struggles I have faced. As the show wore on, these were less moments like "There's not enough money for film" etc., but the deeper ones. The moment on the show that most affected me is when Jason tries to justify some of his choices over the phone to Matt Damon, who is in China with a ponytail.

I know this dark, dark feeling very well: someone tells you something isn't working, and your inclination is to explain it rationally. It doesn't matter. Like I learned playing sports and yet still forget all the time: No excuses. You didn't have the extra days, you didn't get the lighting right, you've got it in one take but not the reverse, there's a helicopter in take 4 that we can't work around, whatever; but it simply doesn't matter if the scene/movie doesn't work, and telling MATT DAMON (and later, LEN AMATO, the president of HBO Films) the specifics of the problems or what you have won't help. You just need to fix it and stop wasting their time.

As easy as that was to write - it is SO HARD to not want to explain why you didn't get things right. Making a bad movie really sucks. It can serve as a reexamination of everything wrong with you: was your initial idea bad? Are you bad at what you do? All those people, all that money that could have funded 100 $30,000 movies or, I dunno, gone to charity - all just wasted.

Jason Mann's problem was laid out by himself in the second episode of the show when he called himself a "cinematic monk," and it was confirmed in an EW piece I just read (that he tweeted) where he said he was happy with the final film by referring to the "formalism in the use of the camera." He values cinema - and his own movie - as an intellectual exercise over an emotional one. It explains his entire methodology through the show and the failure of his movie, which, despite his constant claims that it is "unorthodox," seems to just be him further justifying his precociousness (I know this very well because I have done it myself!)

The visual style, in particular, is non-existent. It has little formal rigor besides "medium shot over-the-shoulder coverage," which is how sitcoms are shot. I do think some moments look nice because of the film look, but he largely shot himself in the foot by shooting most of the thing with two cameras, which compromises the lighting (and likely added to lighting setup times). As such, the visual style - formal, sure, in its own way - is completely unremarkable, and the story is not a strong enough counter to make me ever consider "wow, this comedy of manners is shot in a super interesting way that enhances story."

These may have been things HBO enforced to ensure they had coverage for editing purposes (I shudder to think of this as a 110 minute movie), but his intellectual approach kills his story, too. I liked the opening scene of the movie a lot: an extremely efficient, well-staged and blocked party sequence that gets out a lot of information and character. It was the rest of the movie, with predictable character turns that read like act breaks, and the tragedy that is the character of Fiona - the most compelling character here - buried under all the self-impressed cursing and "darkness."

I've written too much here, but it was hard to not be involved in the movie. Mann does have a knack for performances - or casting - as the cast is uniformly great given their material, especially star Ed Weeks and Bridget Regan, who plays Fiona. Bruce Davison is also as underrated as you'd expect him to be, and after seeing his dailies on the show I have to think Mann has a decent eye for performance in the edit, too. But the lasting moment of this whole season/movie will be when the editor, Craig Hayes, looks like he's going to push his fingers through his skull over the frustration of replaying a scene (and a particularly nasty one, too; where Davison whips a naked character). "I can't believe we're here again," he says, un-mic'ed in a truly rare moment. I'm certain Hayes will work again in Hollywood.