Cinema Dispatch: The Disaster Artist

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The Disaster Artist and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24

Directed by James Franco

I may not be as over the moon in love with The Room as plenty of other people are, and it has admittedly lost a bit of its charm once you realize just how misogynistic the whole thing is, but it certainly has my respect as being one of the more unique examples of a GOOD BAD MOVIE due in no small part to the auteur himself, Tommy Wiseau.  Now he’s far from the only ridiculously cocky creatives out there who write, direct, and star in what they perceive to be their one true masterpiece (*cough* Old Fashioned *cough*), but with Mr Wiseau there’s a genuine sense of mystery about the guy as many details of his origin are STILL unknown to this day (HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE IN THE INTERNET AGE!?) and his… shall we say UNIQUE brand of acting certainly sets him apart from many of the other low rent struggling artists out there.  No doubt there is a VERY interesting story to tell about this one guy, his one movie, and his friendship with co-star Greg Sestero, which the wannabe auteur himself James Franco has opted to do by adapting Greg’s book The Disaster Artist into a motion picture; one that he directs, produces, and stars in of course.  Will this examination of one of Hollywood’s biggest oddities be a worthwhile exploration of the creative process and what it truly means to be an artist, or are we just desperately trying to milk a novelty that had lost its luster many years ago?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows the journey of two men; aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and… I guess aspiring actor as well Tommy Wiseau (James Franco).  The two meet in an acting class where Greg finds the eccentric weirdo with bad hair and a worse accent rather endearing for his utter fearlessness and ability to throw himself out there in ways that Greg is still struggling to do despite his hopes of becoming an actor.  Because of Greg’s admiration for Tommy and Tommy’s love of being admired, the two move in together and work their way through Hollywood; getting small gigs here and there but nothing that will truly set them apart from the thousands of other working actors cluttering the streets of LA.  After a particularly rough string of bad luck, Tommy eventually starts writing his own movie and wants none other than Greg himself to be the co-star.  The Room is what he titles his masterpiece and he funds it himself with his seemingly unlimited supply of money but things go from awkward to unsustainable as Tommy’s ego and complete inexperience with the process starts escalating tensions with the cast and crew and even with his best friend Greg who’s trying to stick by him but is finding it hard and harder to deal with Tommy’s unpredictable behavior.  Can Tommy find it within himself to get past his issues and foster a good working environment for the only people in the world who are helping him achieve his dreams?  Will Greg stand by his best friend, or will he realize just how much Tommy is holding him back?  WILL THE WORLD EVER UNDERSTAND THE BRILLIANCE OF THIS ONE MAN’S VISION!?

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GENIUS!!

It’s good!  It’s got a really solid cast, the story is interesting, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly while watching it.  I guess… I don’t know, I feel like there’s a bit of a WOW factor missing here that I was kind of expecting from THE MOVIE about one of the most legendarily bad films of all time.  We’ve gotten movies like this before, both as biopics like Ed Wood and documentaries like Best Worst Movie, and as much fun as this movie is, I just keep comparing it to them and it comes up a bit short.  Perhaps my expectations were a bit too high or maybe the movie I THOUGHT this was going to be just couldn’t be made out of the story they were working with.  Maybe the story of Tommy Wiseau and The Room is just not that interesting compared to that of Edward D Wood Jr or all that heartwarming stacked up to the lovable dentist George Hardy, and I’m somewhat torn about how valid of a criticism it is to compare Tommy’s real life story to THEIR real life stories even if the material in their respective films are somewhat similar.  Either way, what criticisms I have about how this story plays out don’t take THAT much away from the overall package which MIGHT not be one of THE best film of the year as I had hoped it would be going into it, but is certainly one of the better ones!

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I’m sure his underwear sales are gonna go through the roof once people see this!  No really.  Tommy Wiseau will sell you Tommy Wiseau branded underwear.  I have The Room on DVD and there’s an order form in it.

I don’t think the movie has a solid overall arc for its characters, but the scene to scene interactions and individual set pieces make this movie shine brighter than many other that have come out this year.  Particularly, the interplay between James and Dave Franco is amazing and as much as Tommy Wiseau is front and center here (for better or worse), it really is Dave Franco as Greg Sestero that brings it all together.  I’ve always liked Dave Franco as an actor and he proves just how great he is here with the way he manages to believably grow an unorthodox friendship with someone who can barely seem to communicate with those around him.  You understand what Greg sees in the guy and how Tommy’s eccentricities that drive other people away are traits that he has always struggled to find in himself.  In Greg’s eyes, Tommy is fearless.  He’s a creative in the purest sense of the word and is unrestrained by the social norms of those around him, which is not only well conveyed by James Franco in the first act of this movie, but is reinforced with the way Dave continuously beams with joy every time Tommy convinces him to get a little bit further out of his shell.  It’s incredibly endearing but also tragic as we the audience can see just how toxic and detached Tommy can be and where that will ultimately lead Greg who has yet to see the true depths of Tommy’s selfishness.  He’s incredibly possessive and clearly a misogynist with a fragile ego which is made clear to us in the scenes that focus more on him, but Greg doesn’t really see that; either through genuine cluelessness or selective blindness. Whether or not Tommy is a truly terrible person and if his mistreatment of his friends, his coworkers, and ESPECIALLY women make him irredeemably awful… I can’t really say and is honestly where I think the movie loses its way a bit, but it’s an interesting dynamic and it’s a lot of fun to watch these two off of each other.

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“We’re having so much fun right now!  It says so right here in the script!”

Now that’s all the set up in the first act which is really solid, but ultimately feels like an extended lead up to what we’re REALLY here to see which is the making of The Room and it’s easily the best part of the movie.  I always like to watch movies ABOUT movies as the process itself is incredibly fascinating, it’s great to watch it play out here in the making of one of the worst movies of all time.  It’s not just a bunch of chuckle heads with a camera spouting out incoherent lines; it’s a FULL cast and crew of professionals who have been doing this work for years yet still can’t eke out a coherent product due to one destructive force on the set.  That’s REALLY interesting to watch as I’m someone who’s never been on a film set, so seeing where things go wrong, the arguments being had, and the compromises that had to be made as they were filming this is not only hilarious to watch but really informative!  Basic stuff like air conditioning and water are simple problems that any competent producer would have been able to overcome, yet become monumental disasters for everyone there because of how badly Tommy Wiseau managed to screw that up.  Seriously, if they tacked on an extra half hour to the film’s running time just so we can see the day to day goings on as this beleaguered crew who had to deal with that egomaniac, I would have enjoyed this even more; especially considering where things eventually end up.

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I imagine this is what it’s like working with James Franco, even when he’s not playing Tommy Wiseau.

The third act is where the problems that nagging me in the background of the movie eventually bubbled to the surface and became issues I could no longer ignore.  The movie never really settles on what it wants to be and how it wants to represent Tommy Wiseau which is a PRETTY big problem considering he’s the main character of the movie.  Is he simply a force of nature that drives the plot forward while Greg stands by as the true heart of the film?  Is this supposed to be a biopic about a man that very few people truly know about, or is James Franco just playing a silly caricature?  Do we LIKE Tommy?  Are we supposed to look past his sins to see the struggling artist behind the bravado?  It’s kind of ALL of that which is why things get pretty murky as we head towards the ending of the movie, and by then it becomes more and more apparent that James Franco doesn’t really have a handle on this story.  It feels less like the true story about Tommy and Greg making a movie and more like what he WANTS the true story to be based on what he saw in The Room, and while I guess that’s an angle that COULD have been interesting (something similar to Shadow of the Vampire), that’s not the way the movie FEELS as the cinematography is mostly hand held and naturalistic to give it a sense of authenticity instead of something more fantastical.  And look, maybe EVERYTHING this film portrays is exactly how it plays out in Greg Sestero’s book which I haven’t read but have heard is VERY good; especially the audio book.  Maybe this truly is a story of a once in a generation oddity of a person and that is as larger than life as this movie portrays him to be both when he’s trying to be friendly and ESPECIALLY when he’s losing control of everything around him.  It just doesn’t FEEL as authentic as it should which isn’t helped by the fact that the movie’s credits have scenes of The Room next to scenes of recreations with James Franco that only further illustrate how much his performance, as good as it is at points, feels like a PERFORMANCE; like we’re watching a Saturday Night Live movie with pretentions of being an award contender.  Franco is clearly aware that this is all a joke which he’s just not doing a good enough job of covering up in his performance or his direction to feel as authentic as you’d want a biopic like this to be.  Maybe that’s not gonna be a problem for everyone who’s just looking for an extension of the Room Phenomenon, but for me it feels a bit like a wasted opportunity that a much more seasoned filmmaker (or at least one that wasn’t so enamored with his subject) wouldn’t have made.

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“MY ART IS TOO PURE FOR YOU MERE MORTALS!!”

I still recommend this movie without hesitation even if it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to REALLY delve deep into what makes Tommy Wiseau tick rather than mythologize him further.  If you get the opportunity to see it in theaters, it’s certainly worth doing so especially if you can get a packed house with people who are in on the joke and will certainly provide the right atmosphere for enjoying the film.  Now if you HAVEN’T seen The Room or even heard of it, it’s certainly going to be a much harder sell as I can imagine it confusing many audience members as to what the hell Franco is doing with his voice and why he’s wearing such a stupid wig without knowing the full context of the character he’s playing (there’s an intro at the beginning of the movie where celebrities are TALKING about the film, but maybe a clip or two of the film itself would have helped those not in the know to at least have something to ground the rest of the movie to).  I hope those people will be able to get the shtick and enjoy it as a movie about an unlikely filmmaker, but then maybe it’d be worth waiting for the home release instead of paying theater prices for something that’ll certainly be hit or miss with that audience.   Hopefully Tommy won’t feel BETRAYED if you do that instead!  Seriously, if that one just flew over your heads, you might just want to sit this one out until the DVD.

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