'The Leisure Class': TV Review
HBO's laugh-free comedy about a con artist trying to marry into a wealthy family is another nail in the coffin of 'Project Greenlight.'
Stolen Summer, The Battle of Shaker Heights, Feast and, now, The Leisure Class. The ends never have justified the means on Project Greenlight, the HBO/Bravo reality series that details the production of a contest-selected feature film. Executive producers — and perpetual good-will hunters — Matt Damon and Ben Affleck may very well want to pay it forward by giving unproven artists a shot at Hollywood glory. What typically results, however, is more of a gawk-at-this freak show that reduces the varying bumps, triumphs and tedium of the creative process to a manufactured series of hyperdramatic high points.
The final product — a film that receives a token run in theaters or, in the case of The Leisure Class, a late-night airing on HBO — is always incidental. And that's sure to be even more true this season, in light of the myriad think pieces about racial diversity and gender inequality that continue to spring up because of the behind-the-scenes scuffling between Damon and African-American producer Effie Brown.
That's all fodder for the pundit/recapper outrage industry. We're here to judge The Leisure Class itself, and hoo boy, what a whole lot of nothing this purported comedy is. Expanded from a 2012 short by this year's Project Greenlight director, Jason Mann (he also co-wrote this version with season one Greenlight winner Pete Jones), the film takes place over a very long night and the next day at a sprawling Connecticut estate. It's here that charismatic Brit Charles (Ed Weeks) is gearing up to marry senator's daughter Fiona (Bridget Regan), his beloved of only a few months.
The thing is, Charles isn't actually named Charles. He's really William Rooney, a con artist by trade who thinks he's lucked his way onto easy street. Then who should show up at the pre-wedding dinner but William's ne'er-do-well brother, Leonard (Tom Bell, aiming for ramshackle charm but only achieving nerve-shredding irritation)? A fiction is quickly spun — Leonard becomes William/Charles' old school chum Dean — and the labored ludicrousness begins.
Never mind that any sane person would be given immediate pause watching these mismatched siblings flailing about as they try to hide their true identities. There's barely a moment when their lies are in the least bit convincing. In truth, they seem like two actors on a low-budget film who are constantly improvising … poorly. The performers playing their targets fare no better. Though Regan has a lovely glow about her, she's primarily called upon to shoot indignant or teary-eyed reactions to her husband-to-be, rather than develop any sort of believable character. Fiona's more of a rigid-sounding board than a flesh-and-blood human, and this wreaks havoc on the later scenes in which William's facade falls away, and we're meant to feel her pain over the charade.
And as her demonic politician father, Bruce Davison gives a spectacularly unmoored performance that, in the best of all possible worlds, would have the Razzie committee salivating like Pavlov's dogs. His climactic, drunken interrogation of William and Leonard (at gunpoint, with growled threats of vengeful rim jobs — I kid you not) is an especially mean-spirited sequence that nonetheless gives this featherweight farce a much-needed kick in the pants. For a few minutes, a work of art that seemed utterly and completely pointless, in the best Project Greenlight tradition, suddenly feels vital and alive — even if it's still across-the-board rancid. But credit where it's due, Matt and Ben: This one's only mostly, not totally, worthless.