THE DISASTER ARTIST [Review]: Oh, hai movie that shows how I got to say “Oh hai Mark!”
It is no secret that I love shitty movies. Not the rote, banal, soulless shit churned out cynically by studios (*coughcough* BvS *coughcough*), but films that strive so hard to be good and intellectually stimulating, but fall oh so short. I devote a semi-regular column to exploring them (which you can read on this site!). And whenever up-and-coming students, interns, or personalities ask for my advice (surprise, surprise, it’s happened more than once), I inevitably come to the same conclusion: watch movies. Watch the movies you want to make. And especially watch the bad movies; you learn so much more about what NOT to do when you see it onscreen.
Tommy Wiseau‘s The Room is the best introductory work for “Bad Movies 101”. And the making of it — as chronicled by Wiseau’s best friend and co-star, Greg Sestero, in the book The Disaster Artist — is as fascinatingly bizarre as the finished film, and focuses on the anomalous creature that is Tommy Wiseau. And James Franco‘s latest work based on the book is a fascinating, frustrating look at the creative process, especially when the end result is an infamous mess. And having read the book a year or two ago in the span of about 4 days, I could not have been more excited.
Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, to whom we’re introduced in an acting class where he stammers through a scene. Following his unimpressive performance is Tommy (also played by James Franco), who attempts to channel Stanley Kowalski, but instead screams, bellows, climbs the stage lighting, and pretends to hump a shirt. In front of his acting class. He has no discernible skill or talent, and by all means he should have given up his dream. Greg, impressed by the sheer audacity of Tommy’s performance, befriends him, and, as the pair grow closer, they realize that the only way make their name known in Hollywood is to make their own movie. And there, folks, is how we get to the making of The Room.
Unlike the book, which alternates chapters between how Greg and Tommy developed their relationship to the actual making of the film, this film is almost laser-focused on Tommy Wiseau. And as played by James Franco…he’s fascinating. I mean, I’ve met the guy at least twice, and Franco actually manages to downplay him a bit. And this is truly James Franco’s show. At several instances I’d marveled at how immersive his performance is, from the subtle gestures Wiseau constantly exhibits, to his voice, to how Tommy’s eyes constantly have an “I just woke up” droopiness to them…but never does Franco play him as a joke. The film’s humor is born from how insane the shoot–and Wiseau himself–turn out, but never once does the film make fun of anyone involved. There is a loneliness to Wiseau that Franco manages to portray expertly, while not shying away from how manipulative, inconsiderate, and damn-near sociopathic Wiseau was to his friend, cast, and crew.
Dave Franco is a passing resemblance to Sestero (although he is a bit short…Sestero is tall, lanky dude), but played him with too much of an “Oh, gee whiz!” enthusiastic naivete; to say nothing of the beard he had to adorn later in the film.. if it was fake, it was distracting as all hell. But the fact that he plays opposite his brother actual reinforces the relationship between Tommy and Greg; theirs was (and still is) a near-fraternal bond, and the chemistry between the two Franco boys is palpable and sells their onscreen camaraderie. But aside from his relationship to Wiseau, and a few scenes with his girlfriend, and a theater performance, we don’t really get to know Greg Sestero…and that’s a shame.
The rest of the supporting cast is a who’s-who of the Apatow/Freaks and Geeks alums, but none of them ham it up or threaten to steal any scenes (to say nothing of Judd Apatow himself showing up as an exasperated producer Tommy interrupts at a restaurant). Of the supporting cast, Seth Rogen’s exasperated Sandy Schklair was the most memorable, as it was one of the more subdued performances Rogen’s given in his later career, and he easily sells the idea of a man who knows he’s doing a job on a piece of shit but goes through with it the best that he can. Allison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend Amber fares a bit worse, simply because she does not have much screen time; given the attention Sestero gives her in the book, I wonder if more of her part wound up on the editing room floor.
While Tommy’s background is glossed over, as it is in the book…and in real life (no joking; no one knows from who, when, nor where this guy emerged), the book hinted at a sadder, more upsetting upbringing. This is mostly likely just the best guess Sestero could make given what he knows; it felt as if this movie could’ve used that dynamic, just a hint at what MIGHT have happened (and, also, hints of where he got his money…which, again, the book attempts to unravel to little success).
While these mysteries do not take away from this film, there is a depth and sadness to Wiseau that the film hints at, but never fully embraces. Tommy’s reaction to the audience at his premiere feels genuine…but he then embraces his new infamy almost immediately (in real life, it took at least a year or two for audiences to fully embrace his odd creation…and even longer for Wiseau himself to accept). By having such an abrupt change in heart, it takes away at least some of the depth of Wiseau.
THAT BEING SAID…this movie is better than I expected it to be. It is genuine, well-acted, well-paced (for the most part), and genuinely funny. This is a film about the creative process, by someone who is creative to a point, and barely technically capable. And the work Franco put into recreating several scenes of The Room (at least 30 minutes of recreated scenes are being attached to the eventual blu-ray) show how much affection he has for this oddball film, how often he studied and timed it, and how even when professionals attempt to recreate incompetence, they’re still lightyears ahead.
This is the perfect mix of immature, This Is The End level Franco with the budding auteur that he has the potential to be–and he does, don’t shake your head at me. He borders highbrow and lowbrow brilliantly here, bringing a larger-than-life character to life, but reminding you that, yes, he’s an honest-to-God real-life person.
P.S: stick to the end to witness side-by-side comparisons of the original film and Franco’s remake.
P.P.S: stick through until after the credits for a gonzo cameo.
4.25/5 Hello Doggies!
The Disaster Artist is currently playing in select cities, and opens wide on Friday, December 8th, 2017.