Nicholas Jarecki, a young film student who wrote the book “Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start,” reports that the most interesting life story of the directors he interviewed was James Toback’s. This inspired him to make a movie, “The Outsider” … in which James Toback’s allegedly interesting breaking-in story is ignored in favor of showing him at work today.
If Toback had the most interesting backstory, why are you telling us his frontstory?
“The Outsider” is 83 minutes of hero worship. Jarecki clearly admires Toback, whom he follows during the ridiculously short 12-day shoot for his 2004 film “When Will I Be Loved?” Actors who have worked with Toback love him, too. Brooke Shields, Neve Campbell and Mike Tyson are on hand to heap praise on him for not selling out, for being a maverick, for being such an all-around genius.
And hey, Toback loves a lot of people, too. Apparently everyone he’s ever worked with is “brilliant” (including the just-named actors, including Mike Tyson) and directing them was a choice experience.
What glimpses there are of Toback’s past certainly are interesting. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1966 and is extraordinarily well-read and educated. The ’60s and ’70s were an era of hedonism for him, packed with gambling, women and movies. He once lived in athlete Jim Brown’s house as the only white man in the “orgiastic” entourage. I suspect a biography of him would be eye-opening indeed.
So why the focus on his current work? The way Toback makes “When Will I Be Loved?,” while more free-wheeling and improvised than most film shoots (and certainly shorter), is by no means unique. Seeing him at work provides little insight into what kind of man Toback is, or even what kind of director he is.
“The Outsider” assumes we already think Toback is a genius from watching his movies (which include “Black and White,” “Two Girls and a Guy,” “The Pick-up Artist” and “Fingers”). But since the movie’s whole point is that Toback is an outsider whose films are not widely seen, how can you assume your audience has, in fact, seen them? And what if they saw them and — horrors! — didn’t like them? Such a scenario is apparently beyond conceivability for Jarecki.
C (1 hr., 23 min.; )