Can an act of personal revenge also be a valid artistic statement? That's the question that went through my mind watching "Overnight" (2003), a fascinating though certainly slanted look at one man turning a once-in-a-lifetime break into personal and professional disasters of the highest order.
The subject is Troy Duffy, who at age 25 in 1997 became the stuff of Hollywood fairy tales when his script for "The Boondock Saints" was sold to Miramax. But the story was much better than that. Beyond the screenplay sale, Duffy (a bartender/bouncer and aspiring musician who had never worked behind a camera) was offered the chance to direct the movie at a $15 million budget; his band, The Brood, was going to do the soundtrack music; and Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein promised to buy the bar Duffy worked at, giving his new wonder boy co-ownership of his favorite watering hole. Duffy seemed to be realizing more than any person would dare dream.
He also initially seemed devoted to bringing his buddies along for the ride. Along with his bandmates, these pals included band managers Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith, who were enlisted to make a documentary about his meteoric rise to the top. That the film Montana and Smith finally produced is probably not what Duffy had in mind is a major understatement.
This brief (82 minutes) film begins with Duffy on top of the world – being interviewed for television, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, and generally reveling in being the man of the moment. If he seems a bit overconfident, well who wouldn't be with so much thrown at him at one time?
But "Overnight" moves quickly from showing a self-assured Duffy to a supremely arrogant, frequently cruel one. Expecting everything to continue to come to him, he curses out actors, agents and executives who fail to give him top priority. Duffy's boorishness finally seems to put the brakes on his Miramax deal. Though the exact reason for the decision is never made clear, Weinstein pulls out of the agreement. Though paid $300,000 for his screenplay, Duffy doesn't get to make his prestige indie film with the studio. A potential recording contract for The Brood with Madonna's Maverick Records label also falls through. Oh yeah…he doesn't get the bar either.
But it isn't quite back to rags from riches, as Duffy does get to make "Boondock Saints" at less than half the original budget for Franchise Pictures. He even gets a couple of name actors (Willem Dafoe and Billy Connolly) to participate and though production details are sparse in the documentary, it appears the filming went off without any major problems and even with some camaraderie on the set (Connolly in particular seems to be having a good time).
Behind the scenes, however, we see Duffy falling further into an abyss of egotistical madness. The Brood manages to secure another record deal, but there is much conflict in the recording process. Montana and Smith are humiliated when they ask for an advance, with Duffy treating them more coldly than street beggars. Troy's brother and bandmate Taylor backs his sibling up in this harsh exchange, only to be treated with equal callousness when he calls a band meeting to express his own unhappiness.
The CD by The Brood (now rechristened The Boondock Saints) sells only a few hundred copies while the movie ends up with only a token theatrical release before going to video. (It ends up becoming a minor cult hit on the video market, but Duffy's contract doesn't give him any of the financial rewards of that success.) Rather than humbling him, Duffy's descent from overnight sensation to overnight has-been only makes him more vitriolic and paranoid. There may be some credence to his notion that the powerful Weinstein played a part in his difficulty securing another film deal, but there is also little doubt that Duffy's abrasive, macho persona alienated more important people than it impressed. "Overnight" shows several hateful Duffy tirades, filled with equal bile whether addressing supposed friends or professional contacts. Misogyny and anti-Semitism are also revealed as part of his off-putting demeanor.
Are Smith and Montana being unfair to Duffy in order to settle an old score? Undoubtedly they selected more negative than positive footage, accentuating the repellent aspects of their subject instead of the charismatic ones that must have been there to draw so many people to his ultimately self-immolating light. Yet it's hard to imagine how any footage short of Duffy granting sight to the blind could balance the odious behavior he demonstrates in jaw-dropping, largely unedited sequences. By all appearances, this may be a score worth settling, making "Overnight" not merely riveting voyeurism, but a valuable cautionary tale in an age where success is valued above all else.
ThinkFilm's "Overnight" DVD includes some deleted scenes and an interview with the directors, but on the Netflix copy (apparently a licensed rentals-only dub, bearing the Netflix logo) viewed for this review, the only bonus feature was short biographical info on the filmmakers.
This compelling documentary is sure to spark interest in "The Boondock Saints" (1999) itself, which is available on a 20th Century Fox DVD. It is suggested viewing, however, strictly as a companion to "Overnight." A slick but idiotic adolescent vigilante fantasy, it represents the worst of the Tarantino-wannabe crowd. To his credit, first-time filmmaker Duffy proved himself capable of managing a professional crew and turning out a technically proficient product – no small achievement. But the film's cheesy characterizations, ham-fisted visual style, lazily repetitive profanity, and graceless attempt to fuse the grittiness of Scorsese with the operatic violence of John Woo, makes one wonder what Harvey Weinstein saw in this limp material in the first place.
The success of "The Boondock Saints" on video has led to longstanding rumors of a sequel and a Duffy comeback. I'm not sure what is more depressing…that a tyrannical hack like Duffy might return to filmmaking, or that his dreadful debut has won enough of a following to make that possible.
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© 2005 Joel Wicklund