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Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Directed by: James Franco

Premise: Based on true events. Aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) befriends eccentric filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Together they make the 2003 movie The Room, a relationship drama that is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

What Works: The Disaster Artist is successful because it is clear that the filmmakers understood why The Room has attracted such a cult following. Unlike contemporary efforts to manufacture cult titles like the Sharknado sequels or Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2003’s The Room is authentic and earnest. It doesn’t wink at the audience nor is it self-consciously bad. The filmmakers intended to make a good movie and failed in a way that was unintentionally hysterical. As a result, The Room is a human folly—as opposed to an industrial accident—in which the oddball personality of its creator shines through. The Disaster Artist dramatizes the making of The Room and it centers upon that appeal. Just as The Room is about a romance falling apart, The Disaster Artist is about a friendship strained by the filmmaking process. The Disaster Artist centers upon the relationship between aspiring actor Greg Sestero and eccentric filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. As portrayed in this film, Sestero and Wiseau have a passion to work in the movie industry but neither of them are particularly talented and they struggle to break into Hollywood. Making The Room is their attempt to pave their own way and The Disaster Artist is at some level satirical; there is a whole genre of movies about people seizing their moment and making it in show business. The implicit message of those movies is that if we work really hard and follow our visions, greatness will inevitably result. The Disaster Artist is about people who do just that but fail anyway and then their failure achieves its own sort of lopsided success when The Room becomes a cult favorite. This is the Hollywood success story turned on its head and it is done quite brilliantly and with a cutting sense of humor but also a lot of compassion for the people involved. That’s most evident in the lead roles with James Franco as Tommy Wiseau and Dave Franco as Greg Sestero. Wiseau is a unique personality with a mysterious past who makes bad decisions and is frequently awful to his cast and crew. But James Franco identifies Wiseau’s human qualities and even while he nails Wiseau’s voice and demeanor his performance is much more than an imitation. Less flashy but also impressive is Dave Franco as Greg Sestero. Dave Franco gets the passion and anxiety of a struggling actor who is watching his career disintegrate and the relationship between the two leads gives the movie a human center. The Disaster Artist recreates several key sequences of The Room and it does them exactly. The film’s attention to detail is impressive and the actors deliver their lines with nearly the exact inflections of the performers in the 2003 film.

What Doesn’t: Viewers who have not seen The Room will be at a significant disadvantage while watching The Disaster Artist. Much of the enjoyment of this film is in the connections between the content of the 2003 movie and what occurred behind the scenes. The Disaster Artist plays whether or not viewers have seen The Room but those who have will find a lot more to laugh at. One of the qualities that distinguished The Room was its weirdness; it had unnecessary use of computer graphics and its dialogue sounded like an imitation of the way people speak. The Disaster Artist takes a mostly conventional approach to the filmmaking. This is a show business tale and it is made in a way that remains within the box of this sort of story. Given the weirdness of its subject, the movie might have benefitted from a more avant-garde approach.

Bottom Line: The Disaster Artist is a great movie about a really bad one. Fans of The Room will find their affection for the movie reflected in The Disaster Artist and for everyone else this is a smart and funny picture that’s also a sendup of Hollywood success stories.

Episode: #678 (December 17, 2017)