For those of you unfamiliar with Project Greenlight, it is a competition produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (and previously co-produced by Chris Moore who was inexplicably absent this season) in which one winner gets to make a movie. The applicants are typically burgeoning cinema creators or drowning creatives who long ago took the safe route of a standard job. After a hiatus, the fourth season finally returns after a ten year lull, and this time New York film student Jason Mann won. Initially Mann was to direct a film written by season one winner Pete Jones called “Not Another Pretty Woman” but after some finagling, Mann won over HBO and was able to direct his own project, The Leisure Class.
I’m a huge fan of the heart and premise of Project Greenlight – give someone, who would otherwise not have a chance at breaking into Hollywood, the opportunity to make a movie. There is something interesting about watching these bright eyed individuals learn about the indie film maker’s experience dealing with a studio, a la getting thrown into the deep end. Without fail though, you end up cheering for the Greenlight winner and inevitably form a bias that impacts your overall experience of the final product. In an effort to truly watch the film without favoritism, I refrained from watching the series after episode two and skipped right to the movie.
The premise for The Leisure Class is not complicated in anyway, a British man named William is about to marry into an ‘old money’ Connecticut family. This happy occasion is turned on its head when William’s eccentric brother turns up and the truth of William’s pedigree and intentions can no longer be hidden.
The Leisure Class as a film is riddled with problems from start to finish, which makes us shudder at the thought of the state of Not Another Pretty Woman, the initial screenplay which was to be made. Character development, acting, plot, tone, structure, cinematography, production design, editing – basically everything needs work and feels like a rough first draft that should never see the light of day except as a canistered film on a shelf.
If you pick away at all the physical imperfections, what comes down to it is The Leisure Class is a weak script. The pacing is terrible, unbearably slow and monotonous at the start, with bouts of fleeting and nonsensical mania. The core events of the film do create a substandard plot, but the dialogue and transitional occurrences to get us from one main plot point to the next are absent. Tonally, The Leisure Class is off-putting, jumpy and abrasive while being equally pointless.
Yes, the actors could have brought more to their roles than what was there on paper, especially the feebly written females, most notably Bridget Regan who plays Fiona, but that minor fix would not have been enough to save the film. The two leads, played by Ed Weeks and Tom Bell, who are the heart of the film needed significant guidance based on their performances which a more experienced director would have noticed or edited around. Their banter, which seems excessively ad-libbed at times, needed to be reined in considerably so that the core structure of the film was retained. Listening to the dialogue, you long for the characters to get to the point, patiently waiting for the movie to start, which it never does.
It seems as though Jason Mann was given every opportunity to succeed and utilize this film as a catalyst for his career and as an exemplification of his talents as a film maker. Based on The Leisure Class, Mann needs to go back to the basics of exciting and compelling story-telling before jumping into filming.