Post-Mortem: Can We Watch ‘The Leisure Class’ And ‘Project Greenlight’ In Reverse To See What Went Wrong?

11.09.15 2 years ago 25 Comments
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HBO

I’d been meaning to watch Project Greenlight all season, but I put it off, and somehow, I still hadn’t seen a frame of it (save for Matt Damon’s now infamous mansplaining bit) by the time The Leisure Class came out this past week (The Leisure Class being the movie they made during Project Greenlight). I ended up watching them backwards, The Leisure Class first, which, in retrospect, is probably the best way. Plenty of films make you wonder “How could this happen?” Rarely can you flip on six hours of reality television detailing exactly that.

The Leisure Class, Pre-Greenlight Viewing

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HBO

The odd thing about The Leisure Class is that it’s almost unwatchable, yet it’s not bad in many of the traditional ways. It’s not maudlin. It isn’t hokey or convoluted. It doesn’t make bad creative choices. It’s almost as if it doesn’t make creative choices. It feels like a school assignment where a directing student had to work with a script in a foreign language. At worst, it’s tedious, the kind of story where you can’t stop breaking in to ask “Wait, why are you telling me this?”

It feels like someone took the script from Houseguest starring Sinbad and shot it like it was The Firm. Or tried to remake Wedding Crashers with two uncharismatic English guys and shot it as a drama. It’s truly odd. Not so much an unfunny comedy as a thing that doesn’t know whether it’s a comedy. It ends up falling into the same maudlin third-act trap as many Adam Sandler movies, only without the jokes in the first two.

Having seen my share of “tweener” indie movies — movies that aren’t especially good or bad but just feel like failed attempts at something — there seems to be a common thread. They play like they were created under the assumption that there’s some “secret” the audience wants to know, and that just setting it up and withholding it from us is enough to create compelling action. A lot of bad Hollywood movies overexplain, a lot of bad indies underexplain.

The main character in The Leisure Class is a British guy named “Charles” (we later find out his real name is William, who is played by Ed Weeks), who has apparently lied his way into an engagement to Fiona, the blandly beautiful daughter of a blue blood politician. The film’s big secret is who Charles really is and what he’s hiding. Trouble is, this Charles also needs to function as our ambassador into this weird world of old-money politics, and the film’s so busy withholding his backstory that we never get any sense of him. He’s vaguely cute in an utterly generic way, like a royalty-free Hugh Grant. Imagine Meet the Parents, only instead of Gaylord Focker, the neurotic male nurse, it’s about Nigel, who uses hair gel.

Having a lead who’s a cipher doesn’t really work in a comedy (?) of manners (??). It doesn’t help that the world into which Charles/William has insinuated himself is as stock-photo bland as he is. When bland infiltrates bland, what do you get? Not much.

“Charles” has a “wacky” brother, Leonard (aka Dean, played by Tom Bell) who Shows Up To Wreck Everything. Is this guy crazy, drunk, or both? Charles and Leonard are doing this delicate dance where Leonard subtly threatens to reveal Charles in front of his new family, and Charles subtly begs Leonard to leave, while none of the other party guests are the wiser. Only, the least subtle version of that imaginable, where everyone would have to be lobotomized baboons not to immediately demand to know what’s going on. There’s no tension and everything is so far removed from the way you might expect real humans to act that it’s confusing without being intriguing.

It’s strange yet predictable, and nothing much happens that you wouldn’t have assumed from the first 15 minutes. The wacky guy wrecks everything but fixes it in the process, family secrets are revealed, blah blah blah. It felt fundamentally disjointed, like the director didn’t understand the script, or had no attachment to it.

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