It’s frequently fun to watch real people lose their tempers, argue, and bad-mouth each other on television, and it was this very base, reality-TV kind of pleasure that made Project Greenlight absorbing this season. HBO’s docu-series about the making of a movie had its season finale on Sunday night, and the product of its labor, a comedy called The Leisure Class, premieres on Monday night.
From the start, the “stars” of Project Greenlight were director Jason Mann and producer Effie Brown. The editing frequently reduced these two actual people to caricatures — Mann the effete artiste who ignores the practical realities of movie-making, and Brown the pragmatic killjoy with a political-correctness chip on her shoulder. Sunday’s finale continued their drama right up until the very end, with Effie finding the nearly-finished film “problematic in how the women are portrayed.” (Some of her earlier complaints were about the lack of people of color cast, except in the role of a chauffeur, in a movie whose reason to exist was as a parody a white, ultra-WASP, Connecticut enclave.) Jason — whose reed-think body bent in agony over every decision to be made — was still whining about shots that seemed a tad over-exposed.
On the sidelines were Len Amato, president of HBO Films, who came off in the editing as a guy who knifed Jason behind his back while praising him as “the real deal” and a “gifted” filmmaker to Greenlight’s real stars, co-producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Damon and Affleck regularly popped up to praise Jason’s entitled intransigence as a sign of “balls” and commitment — easy for them to say, since they could just swoop in and out and look like good guys who hugged everyone a lot.
Now we have Jason’s film to evaluate, and The Leisure Class is every bit as pinched and humorless its director. It’s the tale of an impending wedding, with the most recognizable faces being Mindy Project’s Ed Weeks as the groom, and Bruce Davison and Desperate Housewives’ Brenda Strong as the parents of the bride, played by Bridget Regan (Jane the Virgin).
The comedy is supposed to come from the unexpected arrival of the groom’s wild, wastrel brother, played by Tom Bell (Humans) — he’s the kind of guy who drinks too much, comes on to the bride’s sister, and, as a butler says, “defecates on the Bentley.” Weeks and Bell, playing British siblings, try for the kind of chattering humor that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon’s “trip” movies, or more to the point, the marvelous 1987 cult film Withnail and I.
Jason Mann wanted The Leisure Class to be a funny farce, but it’s a piece of predictable hackwork. Its interest is chiefly for any viewer who watched Project Greenlight and suffered, along with Effie Brown and every other crew member, as Jason labored to get his lugubrious vision on film. You come to realize how hard people work to achieve even sub-mediocrity in the entertainment business. Remember the big fuss about having a pillow fight in a home filled with priceless art pieces? That ended up as less than a brief throwaway gag. The Leisure Class ends up making its most cogent comment on the leisure-class of show business — all these over-paid, over-indulged people, collaborating to give birth to a dull baby.
The Leisure Class airs Monday at 10 p.m. on HBO.