Review: Man Under Table

Written and directed by lead actor Noel David Taylor, set against the backdrop of a comically surreal and anachronistic LA, a beleaguered young man tries to write a movie but instead gets pulled into everyone else’s projects as he hallucinates his way through a bizarre indie film scene. Also starring: Ben Babbitt, Danny Lane, James Canto, Robert Manion, Alisa Torres and Frank Perry.

Quite clearly if you try to take this film literally, it’s not going to work for you because it is very much focused on this odd, eccentric, dreamlike concept which may play with reality but is not held by its boundaries. Its beginning sets a quirky energy that feels as though it’s taking its pacing from Wes Anderson, it’s immediately offbeat and has a typical focus on random, unexplained details. The progression of the whole story is like following its protagonist down the rabbit hole, never knowing where he’ll end up. It’s a divisive style, some will be able to embrace its somewhat organised chaos but others might not be able to enjoy the sardonic jibes at the film industry enough to get along with it. It does seem to get a little repetitive as time goes on and loses some of its forward momentum towards the end but it brings forth some familiar elements in its own unique way and will probably spark memories of different filmmakers for different viewers.

The directorial, costume and set design are all lovingly odd with a classic indie spirit. It shows a clear use of imagination, you can feel the genuine attempt to bring to life what the filmmaker’s had in mind for this strange, out of place and overtly grey setting. They do however interestingly balance the film’s penchant for grey with introducing colour through the direction and cinematography which allows them to keep its anachronism without totally losing all energy. However, there are a few obvious choices that aren’t necessarily a negative but don’t push the film further. It felt at times like it was doing something different but within a fairly small box and needed to explore further. Particularly in the sense of the Memento-like vein to its story, it might have been enjoyable to follow that road further to give it an extra appeal.

Writer, director Noel David Taylor’s performance captures a very familiar theme in Hollywood characters, the arrogant, self-absorbed, over-confident male. It never really gives you a reason to like him, similar to perhaps Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Phillip or Tim Robbins in The Player, but also never quite makes him so frustrating or unlikeable that you want to stop watching. It feeds into a self-destructive theme, you keep watching because you want to see if he’ll finally implode or lead himself down a road that he can’t charm or worm his way out of. Taylor captures that well, it’s self-loathing, jealous, envious and has a classic over-exaggeration of his talents. It’s a strange, eccentric group of characters, they’re not necessarily surprising but they do add a decent amount of variety to the film.

Man Under Table is the type of film that it will either work for you or it won’t, it’s running down a very specific road which it’s intensely committed to. It has a clear point to make about the film industry and close-minded attitudes, feeding topical public obsessions but it does get stuck on the same note. It’s imaginative and inventive but at the same time it isn’t giving you a great deal to invest in, it could have used an extra element to its story to drive its level of intrigue and add a few layers. In the end it’s simply too focused on its initial concept to sustain itself for the full 79-minutes.

Verdict: ✯✯

Available now on Arrow Player

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