" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Part of our coverage of the 27th Denver International Film Festival

Like the recent movie about the ailing metal band Metallica but without the therapist to help sort out the mess, the documentary film Overnight chronicles Troy Duffy’s meteoric rise and fall near fame and fortune in Hollywood from 1997 to 2000. Would-be auteurs and rock stars take heed!

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Mark Brian Smith takes Q&A after Overnight
Mark Brian Smith takes Q&A after Overnight

Getting what one deserves is a running theme in the monologues of Hollywood’s man of the hour in 1997: Troy Duffy, West Hollywood bartender and screenwriter. Suddenly the town is abuzz: Harvey Weinstein, who must have been thinking he had stumbled across the next Tarantino, is giving Duffy $15 million to turn his screenplay, The Boondock Saints, into a film. And not only is Miramax giving Duffy total creative control, they are also giving his band, The Brood, a deal to record the soundtrack for the movie. It’s an unprecedented deal for a first-time director, and Duffy doesn’t let anyone forget it.

No one ever sat them down long enough to say that “independent” doesn’t mean you must do everything yourself

To his credit, Troy Duffy must be pretty darned talented. He sells his screenplay to the head of Miramax sitting in the bar he works in. When he picks up his guitar, he plays tight blues riffs. But Duffy is so paranoid, so blunt, and so bereft of any real impulse when confronted except to cut himself off from people, that he blows each and every chance to work with anyone.

Upon his sudden fame in Hollywood, Duffy adopts the persona of spoiled rock star faster than you can say “What’s his name?” The gift that has been set at his feet quickly becomes due payment for what he deserves in his rants about the way things are done in Hollywood. In every conversation he pats himself on the back for being at the center of a screenplay-soundtrack deal, for being in the right place at the right time, with all the right people. Footage of raucous parties at the bar he once tended and where he still hangs out features faces of stars and character actors: Mark Wahlberg, one of my favorites, describes exactly how much he likes the screenplay, and Patrick Swayze, Billy Connolly, and others appear interspersed with shots of Troy getting wasted.

Delusions of Grandeur

Troy’s interactions with the film industry turn increasingly reptilian (sorry, all you lizards): At every step, given an opportunity to lead, unite, or move forward, Troy protects himself and tries to convince everyone of his superiority. He hollers at people who want to help him; he bites every hand that points in his direction.

One of his enemies is Miramax, which of course has a sudden dampening effect on the screenwriter-auteur-musician’s career. It turns out, no one has bought anything yet, signed anything yet, and – oops – now, no one is taking their calls. So they bandmembers are still schlepping beers while Troy yammers on and instead of waiting for the big deal, they’re persona non grata in Hollywood, just a bunch of guys in a neighborhood tavern. There’s nothing. No money, no deals.

The Fall of Troy

By the end of the film, it’s clear the splintered, shaggy, and dour group that once partied in Cabo to celebrate a record deal never really had a chance and it’s clear why. No one ever sat them down and interrupted Troy’s paranoid spiel long enough to say that you have to smile and shake some hands if you want to make it big. That “independent” doesn’t mean you must do everything yourself and prove to the world that you can do everything.

When bandmates and friends in the position of managing the band – including the ones who made this very documentary – finally confront Troy about their share of the payoff, because they have been sponging off girlfriends or are about to get evicted, he responds by taking credit for their success because he was the one with the screenplay. One by one, whether brother or friend, Troy shoots them all down, alienating everyone. As his star rises in his own mind, his definition of independent narrows until it includes only himself.

In Turnaround

The filmmaking stays completely out of the way of the “deep cesspool of creativity” Troy shovels from over the course of this film. No voiceover is necessary to convey the sickening feeling of failure that pervades the group’s conversations at the junctures that don’t involve celebrating the latest deal. By 2000, Troy is holed up in a crummy apartment, which he flees, armed, after being almost hit by a car in front of a bar one night. But along the way there are several saves, amazing recoveries, and turnarounds. A film deal does go through; then they do get a record deal, but they limp along as the poor stepchildren of the entertainment industry, left to beg for scraps.

Overnight captures the many spikes and troughs in the group’s journey near the center of the fame universe and back to oblivion. Just when you think things are hopeless for their projects or their future, just when you think Troy Duffy will never ever have lunch in that town again, there he is in Cannes, screening The Boondock Saints, rubbing cheeks with the glitterati. There’s half the band with a recording contract. So we see how the film and record actually get completed despite the hours of trash talk by the director and their midstream abandonment and effective blacklisting by Miramax.

Famous Last Words

Reflecting on the film’s simple storytelling, it becomes more interesting that the film was made by two of Troy’s friends, the ones he tapped to manage his band. I found myself wondering whether the filmmakers, Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith, sneaked off together in the evenings and cackled to themselves, “We are sitting on a gold mine! This is the story! We’ll just let him talk himself silly, film it, and we’ll have the last laugh, mwahaha!” Because in making this film, they definitely did get that last word in on Troy Duffy, and it’s not much kinder than the ugly words Troy and his peers use to describe their so-called enemy, Harvey Weinstein.

Whether The Boondock Saints or The Brood succeeded you can surely guess. (A couple of hints: The film opened in 5 theaters for a week. The record sold 690 copies.) In Overnight, however, the filmmakers and sometimes subjects have revealed a self-centered monomaniac’s rise to near fame and his subsequent undoing at his own hands. It’s a morality play for the ages, a train-wreck of a story you can’t help but watch even though you can see the bad end long before it happens. It has all of the compelling allure of an experience you can learn from without the hassle of behaving badly toward everyone around you.