But none of the above is enough to save this movie from everything else that’s wrong with it. Rewrites and reshoots couldn’t prevent the story from feeling inconsequential, or make what was supposed to be a comedy particularly funny. As just about everyone who screened it in the season finale pointed out, the characters are thin. Even with substantial tweaking, Fiona’s motivations remain unclear; the other women, from Zanetti’s repressed, libidinous youngest Langston sister to Strong’s stately matriarch to Lakin’s bafflingly gratuitous prostitute, are even flimsier. William and Leonard’s relationship should form the emotional core of the movie, but we never learn enough about their background to become invested in it; the same goes for William and Fiona’s feelings for each other. As his friction with Effie Brown and other members of The Leisure Class crew also suggested, Mann doesn’t seem to quite grasp the intricacies of human interactions.
He’s also not as insightful about the wealthy, political milieu he’s supposed to be satirizing as he thinks he is, and that results in excessively expository, somewhat clichéd dialogue and characters we’ve seen before. (“My family grew up in what was the savagery of the forming of this country,” says Edward at one point.) Thankfully, there is a bit of a punch to the final turn of events, which suggests that a smalltime con man is no match for the moral bankruptcy of, ahem, the leisure class. It’s not a bad note to end on, but the realization is largely wasted in the rushed closing scenes of a movie whose first 75 minutes move far too slowly.
On the aesthetic front, Mann’s objections to shifting several night scenes into daytime or twilight turn out to have been well founded. He was also right about the car-crash stunt, which looks so bad that he and his editor should have found a way to excise it from the final cut. But these are minor flaws in comparison to the weak story and flat characters. Just because The Leisure Class’ script is probably superior to whatever hooker-marriage mess the Farrellys were hawking at the beginning of the season doesn’t mean it’s good. The most charitable thing that can be said about Jason Mann based on his first feature is that he has the potential to become a decent director… if learns how to collaborate and stops writing his own screenplays.
So, where does that leave us? Well, Project Greenlight has now produced four films in as many seasons, all of them failures. Despite the best — albeit conflicting — efforts of Effie Brown, Jason Mann, and apparently no one else involved (I still couldn’t tell you what Marc Joubert did, besides offering color commentary), The Leisure Class is just as bad as any of its predecessors. No one could be blamed for concluding that we’ll never see a great Project Greenlight movie, even if the show keeps running for as many seasons as, well, Project Runway has.
I don’t believe the film was a waste of time or money, though. The Leisure Class is among the worst movies I’ve seen this year, but it’s also among the most important. In marginalizing an experienced producer and painting her as an “angry black woman” while championing the deeply flawed auteurist vision of a stubborn, incommunicative, untested young white man, Project Greenlight and its product performed an invaluable service: They proved that the entertainment industry’s rampant racism and sexism don’t just make it hard for women and people of color to succeed in Hollywood — they can also lead to bad art.