Ben Popik’s documentary The Exquisite Corpse Project explores what happens when six friends who have grown apart collaborate on a film together under rather unique creative conditions. Popik tasks his somewhat estranged friends Chioke Nassor, Joel Clark, Adam Conover, David Segal and Raphael Bob-Waksberg with writing a script, but with each writer only writing 15 pages total and unable to read any of the rest of the script save the 5 pages previous. After some initial protests and arguments, the group accepts and the stage is set for a creative clusterfuck.
After the initial setup, I expected the film to just show me the finished Frankenstein’s monster of a film and let it be the oddity that it would be, for better or worse. Luckily, the documentary delivers so much more than that, as we’re instead treated to the writers at the initial finished script read-through, or as they watch the finished film, in addition to interviews with the different writers as they talk about how they came to write what they wrote, and even as they comment on the quality of their collaborator’s work, all intercut with the final film’s footage. It’s like having all the special features of a DVD playing at the same time as the movie, only instead of being a distraction it enhances the experience.
What ultimately results is a hilarious portrayal of all the fun and drama that can surround any creative collaboration, but in a meta-package of absurdity. Which is to say that the film is extremely entertaining, including the conflicts. For example, when Joel turns in his pages and they are not met with approval by director Popik, Joel then decides to turn in pages that are the epitome of a “f**k you” to his friend, which Popik responds to by shooting Joel’s segment in as poor quality as he can muster, lacking all the polish and shine of the rest of the film. Message sent and received, and funny all the same.
In keeping with some of the thoughts expressed by the writers as they comment as they watch the film themselves, I was surprised that it’s not nearly as insane or absurd as I imagined it would be. It gets out there, sure, but the fact that it, by the end, makes some kind of narrative sense is shocking. The different sensibilities of the writers betray differing perspectives on the project, as everyone has their own idea of what it all is, yet somehow it comes together. Could’ve been crazier? Maybe, but I do love how it all turned out regardless.
Again, had The Exquisite Corpse Project just presented the final film resulting from the creative restrictions, the documentary would’ve been a novelty. An interesting one, but nothing that you’d step away from thinking “I need to watch this again.” But within this documentary framework, and with the characters of the writers themselves engaged throughout, the film transcends that simple distinction and becomes a truly great film about collaboration, friendships and the friction that can exist therein.
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