December 26, 2017

The Disaster Artist: A Good Movie from a Bad Movie?

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If you’ve never seen The Room, let me explain it to you. Most bad movies suffer from a disjointed plot or weak characters. The Room transcends into a different plane. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how humans act and perceive the world. It’s regarded as one of the worst movies ever… and yet has gained a cult following that’s kept it popular since its release 14 years ago. Produced, directed, written and starring Tommy Wiseau, The Room is a cinematic marvel.

So naturally, it makes sense to produce a movie about the making of The Room. That is where The Disaster Artist comes in, an adaptation of the book by Greg Sestero, one of Tommy Wiseau’s friends and an actor in The Room. Starring brothers James Franco and Dave Franco, The Disaster Artist dives into one of the most recognizable movies in cult cinema.

The movie opens on an acting class in San Francisco, 1998. Greg Sestero, played by Dave Franco, struggles to keep his confidence on stage. Right after the instructor has him sit down though, another student offers to perform. This is Tommy Wiseau, played by James Franco. Tommy’s acting is far more overdramatic than Greg’s, but Greg is intrigued. The two end up bonding over a shared dream of show business, and Tommy ends up convincing Greg to head down to Los Angeles with him. After having little luck in the established Hollywood studios, though, they decide to make a movie on their own — and the rest is history.

The Franco brothers nail their roles spot on. James perfectly captures the bizarre mannerisms and dialect of Tommy Wiseau. Near the beginning he delivers a line that perfectly sums up the character:  “Don’t talk about me, don’t talk about how I talk, and don’t look at robot crab,” while gesturing to a Happy Meal toy on his car dash, “he’s shy.” I double checked, and robot crab is in fact in Sestero’s book. James doesn’t play Tommy Wiseau as only some weirdo though, but treats him as a person. He shows Wiseau struggling to cling to hope and teetering on despair. He shows Wiseau as a loyal friend. He shows Wiseau’s dictator-like style of production.  James Franco has already won some Best Actor awards for this role, and he definitely deserves it.

Dave Franco also deserves credit for his role as Greg Sestero. When your character is in a duo with Tommy Wiseau, it can be hard to keep the spotlight for yourself as the “straight man.” Luckily, Dave Franco plays Sestero in a very earnest and warm way. As fascinating as James’ performance was, Dave kept me invested in Greg Sestero, and how the events of the film affected him. The chemistry between the actors as brothers translates well into characters as friends. The close camaraderie can be seen on the screen in all its glory.

That is what elevates The Disaster Artist from a simple docudrama. It’s not only a movie about the making of The Room, even though that would have been satisfying on its own. It’s also a movie about two close friends trying to pursue a dream, and facing the difficult realities of Los Angeles in their own way. That central relationship serves as the glue to keep the plot together and moving forward.

Now, there were a couple parts where I could tell liberties were taken with the story, and they were liberties that seemed to take away from it. For example, after Greg reads the script for The Room, he doesn’t seem to react in the confused way I’d expect. The actual production included many rewrites, and it would have made more sense to show that. There were a couple other parts where I felt things got abridged, things that could have elevated the movie even more. I mean, it could have only heightened the humor to reveal that Tommy Wiseau originally wanted to have a vampire twist (true by the way, look it up). The Disaster Artist isn’t even that long, at only an hour and 44 minutes. I would want to see more of this! Of course, it’s not a detrimental flaw, and we still see enough to cement the movie’s plot solid.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of The Disaster Artist, though, is that it made me appreciate The Room all the more. Sure, I already love it as a farcical comedy, but if you think about it, you could argue that it’s outright subversive. Nobody wanted to take a chance on Tommy Wiseau, so he made his own movie. He funded it and created it. The Room is also mysterious; to this day, no one knows where Wiseau came from, and no one knows where his money came from. Above all, though, The Room is passionate. Bad movies like The Emoji Movie or Jack and Jill reek of cynicism and insults to the viewing audience. The Room was made with no understanding of how a movie is made… but it has no cynicism behind it. Despite the hellish conditions that Wiseau put his cast and crew through, there’s no denying that he poured his heart into the film. In the movie, one of the veteran actresses faints on stage due to the heat. After she recovers, Sestero asks why she’s still doing this, when she has a stable life to fall back on. She responds, “Even the worst day on set is better than the best day anywhere else.”

It all comes to a head by the end of the movie, when The Room premieres to rolling laughter from audiences. Wiseau is crushed, believing that they all hate his philosophical drama. But Greg comes to comfort him, and tells him to listen more closely. They are laughing… but they are cheering. Applauding. And when the credits roll, they start cheering his name. It’s not the victory Tommy wanted, but it’s a victory that only he could achieve. It’s a wonderful ending that teaches that while we might get what we wanted, it’s often in unexpected ways.

If that wasn’t all enough, we get an after-credits scene featuring a cameo from the REAL Tommy Wiseau. It’s great, it’s brilliant, it’s funny, and you should stay for it. When it comes down to the wire, The Disaster Artist may not be a perfect telling of The Room’s production, but it does a fine job of it. The Franco brothers form the heart of the movie, and from there it becomes ridiculous, emotional and inspirational. It captures the mystery of The Room, and puts it out for us to see more clearly. If you are at all interested in how movies get made — or at entertained at all by the infamous “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!” — then you should treat yourself to The Disaster Artist.