Man Under Table

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Man Under Table
"The film was so clever, so sharp that after the first five minutes I had the impression of a project paper-cutting itself to death."

Some films are not for me. One such is Man under the table, According to the blurb, the film, set against the backdrop of a “comically surreal and anachronistic LA”, is the tale of a “beleaguered young man” attempting to write a movie but instead getting “pulled into everyone else's projects as he hallucinates his way through a bizarre indie film scene”.

True.

Copy picture

Written, directed by and also starring Noel David Taylor, this is clearly a heartfelt and low-budget effort to communicate a certain disillusionment with the process of making a film in the shallow cut-throat business of contemporary movie-making. Or rather, not so much the making of a film, as obtaining the backing for the same.

It has some nice touches. There are the cynical film execs (Alisa Torres and Frank Perry), who just love the concept. If only it could be a bit more “relatable”. And include fracking.

There is naïve throwback, Gerald (John Edmund Parcher), to whom our beleaguered hero mortgages his soul in an attempt to raise funds. He doesn’t know what he wants. Except it has to have less of that homosexual stuff. And more fracking.

Over all, like some invisible ghost at the feast is the ubiquitous Jill Custard (Katy Fullan), whose inexorable rise to fame is explained at the very end in a single, pointed punchline.

All of these are clever contrivances, demonstrating wit on the part of our hard-pressed writer, director, star. Still, the totality did not appeal. Why? Two reasons. First, the film was so clever, so sharp that after the first five minutes I had the impression of a project paper-cutting itself to death. Is this a film about the business of movie-making? Or a film about a film about movie-making? Or even, a film about a film about a film about movie-making?

The recursiveness is witty. It is also confusing, as we switch from what seems to be realistic auteurial disgruntlement, to a film exec pausing said auteur to correct his words against a script they just happen to have to hand. Nothing is real. The moment you think you know what is going on, you suddenly find you don’t.

So, the film is jam-packed with clever moments which do not add up to a clever whole. It feels, as you consume it, that there is substance here. But five minutes later, as you move from one set-piece scene to the next, you are empty again. Not invested in film, or characters, or plot. Because all – is this another recursive joke? – are so unrelatable.

There are some great one-liners, designed to expose the hollowness of the business. As Guy, the guy at the centre of it all says to girl early on: “Is it political? No. Unless talking about life is political.”

Of course, he’s called Guy. Because he’s an everyman. Just as another credited character is Someone (Danny Lane).

“How do you end this scene?”, asks one character, as another scene spirals to inconclusive end. Answer: you just end it!

Alongside the cleverness is the second major reason this film is not for me, a mostly-amiable, occasionally grumpy older viewer. That is, it really does not appear to be aimed at me, so much as an audience of 20-something young men and women, at odds with the world and one another.

Watching it, I jotted down a series of grumpy observations. Self-absorbed. Narcissistic. Misanthropic. Sure, it’s comedy. It made me smile. Still, this felt like a further recursion. That this is about a young man telling an extended joke about how awful is the world wherein he has chosen to make his career. Yet the ultimate joke is that he is 100 per cent part of that world.

It’s cynical. I don’t mind that. Because some of the best films are very negative about human nature. In the end, though, I departed with an enduring sense of unkindness. At some level, it feels as though this film-maker does hate making films and the people who make them. I’m sure he doesn’t. I hope he doesn’t. For there is talent here.

It just needs some grounding. It needs - I may have mentioned this already - to be a bit more relatable.

Man Under Table is available, on subscription at www.ARROW-Player.com.

Reviewed on: 04 Aug 2021
Man Under Table packshot
In an anachronistic dystopian landscape, a beleaguered young man attempts to navigate his way through the indie film scene in LA.

Festivals:

Slamdance 2021

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