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The Disaster Artist

For those just tuning in, I’ve already said my piece about The Room. In fact, I sat in at one of the infamous regular screenings at Cinema 21 and wrote a twopart blog entry on the experience. At the time, I would gladly have agreed that it was truly the best worst movie ever made, but that was a few years before my seven-part marathon of “so bad it’s good” cult classics.

Having experienced all of that, I submit that while The Room is in the same campy and tin-eared class as Showgirls, it only has a mere fraction of the juvenile sleaze that makes the latter film so uncomfortable to sit through. So I’d rank The Room above that movie, but below the unpredictably bugfuck hilarity of Troll 2. It’s certainly not the best worst movie of all time (that would be the earnest, well-intentioned, and just plain adorable Plan 9 From Outer Space), but it’s also not the absolute worst movie of all time (the deeply cynical, utterly pointless, and just plain unwatchable middle finger to cinema that was “Manos” The Hands of Fate).

If you haven’t seen The Room, I very strongly recommend watching it with friends who know all the “audience participation” cues and inside jokes. In fact, if you know any such people, you should probably see The Disaster Artist with them while you’re at it.

Tonight’s movie is based on the memoirs of Greg Sestero (“SESTOSTERONE!!!“), the second male lead of The Room. Specifically, the movie follows Sestero’s friendship with Tommy Wiseau and how the latter came to be the writer/producer/director/star of The Room. And if you know anything at all about Tommy Wiseau or his movie, you can begin to imagine how weird this is.

Right off the bat, director James Franco made the inspired choice of respectively casting himself and brother Dave Franco as Wiseau and Sestero. Obviously, the chemistry between these two characters has to be pitch-perfect and of course these two brothers have it down from the word go. Moreover, it also helps that the two characters complement each other quite well, in that Sestero is incredibly handsome but doesn’t have the confidence to tap into his full potential, while Wiseau is this strange little troll who talks funny and acts weird and seems pathologically incapable of giving a fuck.

The plan at first seems to be that Wiseau gives Sestero the needed confidence to boost his acting talent and spark his career, so Sestero can reach back and help Wiseau upon making it big. But it doesn’t quite work that way. See, while Sestero may be a pretty face, those are a dime a dozen in L.A. The sad simple truth is that he’d have a hard enough time making it big in Hollywood without his bizarre and delusional friend tagging along.

Sestero can’t catch a break because he’s too much like everyone else. And Wiseau can’t make it big because he’s mentally and physically incapable of playing the game. So they do the only thing they can and change the rules. Hell, even when their movie turns out to be a disaster that has everyone rolling in the aisles with unintentional laughter, they change the rules again and pretend that was their goal the whole time. And remember, that’s not a spoiler, that’s the point.

While Dave Franco is perfectly serviceable as our leading man, it’s James Franco who really drives the movie. And how could he not, when he’s playing someone as eerily magnetic as Tommy Wiseau? Franco (the director and star) perfectly captures the singular demented genius of the man, with an infectious disregard for what anyone else thinks. This is exactly the kind of guy who’s so unpredictable and so unique that you want to keep watching him just to see what he’ll do next. His demands are so outlandish that it’s insanely easy to give him enough rope to hang himself with. Until things go wrong, of course.

First of all, because Wiseau is an innate narcissist, he blames everything on everyone except himself. He can’t properly look after his friends or coworkers because any of their complaints or basic needs — like water or AC in the summer SoCal heat, for example — are deemed “unprofessional behavior”.

What’s more, Wiseau is quite famously incapable of giving a straight credible answer to any question. He won’t say where he’s from. (New Orleans with that accent? Yeah, right.) He won’t say how old he is. (Greg Sestero’s age? No way.) He won’t explain where he got the money to simultaneously keep apartments in L.A. and San Francisco while inexplicably pouring an estimated $6 million into The Room. (Seriously, think about that.) For all we know, “Tommy Wiseau” isn’t even his real name. If Tommy Wiseau the director won’t give such basic and necessary information to those closest to him, how can he say with a straight face that he’s being honest and authentic with anyone? When Tommy says that he’s baring his soul for the camera with this picture, who could believe him? And how can he insist on getting any honest portrayals from his actors when he’s being a hypocrite about the whole thing?

Another important thing about Wiseau is that precisely because he’s so unique, and because he’s such a narcissist, he’s terribly lonely. So he takes friendship seriously, and he’s going to lash out at everyone in arm’s reach when he feels “betrayed”. You can imagine how he takes it when Sestero actually finds a glimmer of hope for his career and starts developing a decent love life (his girlfriend is played by Alison Brie, who really is married to Dave Franco) while Tommy is still behind schedule and over-budget on this weird little movie that may never get finished, let alone in front of an audience.

I want to stress that this picture is genuinely funny. The movie is loaded with fantastic re-enactments of The Room, and the imitations are just as hilarious to watch. What’s more, both Francos get some wonderfully funny lines, and the climax — in which we see people watching the movie for the first time — is comedy gold. But of course so much of the tension and comedy comes from watching The Room actually get made, as we see Wiseau’s mania spiral farther and farther out of control as patience gradually frays. In the movie’s production and in the movie’s premiere, there’s definitely a sense of humor being used as a coping mechanism. In both situations, everyone is presented with something so uncomfortably and impossibly awful that the only way to deal with it is to laugh.

Naturally, the fact that it works so well is a great testament to James Franco as a director. But credit is also due to a lot of the supporting cast. In particular, Seth Rogen (playing Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor) is the true anchor of the production scenes, playing the straight man who can’t believe the shit that Wiseau keeps pulling. Jacki Weaver gets a couple of nice scenes as Carolyn Minnott, who played Claudette in The Room. Zac Efron is completely unrecognizable in his scene opposite Josh Hutcherson, as they respectively play “Chris R.” and Denny in The Room. And as for Ari Graynor… shit, when she first came onscreen, I thought she actually was Juliette Danielle in a cameo appearance.

Though noteworthy cameo roles were in fact given to Megan Mullally and Bryan Cranston. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, and Judd Apatow, all of whom make brief but highly memorable appearances. Looking deeper at the IMDb page, it looks like the real Tommy Wiseau himself poked his head in somewhere, and there are quite a few other interesting cameo players besides.

So, nitpicks? Well, there was some shaky-cam early on that looked terribly out of place, but the handheld camerawork got to be more natural as the film went on. Additionally, while the comedy is wonderful and the Franco Brothers’ chemistry is solid, it’s hard to disguise the fact that the plot is pretty rote. When you get right down to it, this is just another buddy comedy in which two people become bestest buddies, slowly distrust each other until they break up, and then get back together in time for the end. We’ve seen it a million times and this script follows the established story beats like clockwork. Likewise, the basic themes of “Follow your dreams” and “Be yourself” are stuff we’ve seen a million times before. Hell, strictly in terms of plot and theme, there’s really not much here that wasn’t done and done better in La La Land just last year. What makes all the difference, of course, is the subject matter.

The Disaster Artist is tricky in that so much of this movie will only work for those who already know and love The Room. Established fans who already know the inside jokes and history of the subject will find a lot here to enjoy and laugh at. Those who know about the cast and crew will be thrilled to marvel at the pitch-perfect impersonations and scene recreations, especially James Franco’s uncanny impression of Tommy Wiseau. But for those without any interest in The Room, all you’ll get is a cookie-cutter plot and an oddball performance from James Franco.

If you’ve seen The Room, you should absolutely give this a watch. Otherwise, while this certainly isn’t a bad movie, you’d be better off watching the real deal first.

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