THE DISASTER ARTIST
Director: James Franco
Cast: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Nathan Fielder, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone, Judd Apatow
MPAA Rating: (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 12/1/17 (limited); 12/8/17 (wide)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 30, 2017
If given the chance to interact with Tommy Wiseau, the best option seems to avoid the opportunity altogether. That's the main lesson of The Disaster Artist, a dramatization of the process by which the actor/writer/director/producer and generally strange guy formulated and made his independent movie The Room. The resulting movie is almost universally acknowledged as one of the worst ever made, although it has developed a cult following, thanks to reportedly rowdy and interactive midnight screenings that remain a staple of certain theaters across the country.
It's a terrible, terrible movie. It's difficult to imagine how a communal experience could make the movie better on its own merits, but it's quite easy to imagine how a constant stream of laughter and groans could make for a decent communal experience.
Wiseau isn't the central figure of this fictionalized account of the making of The Room, but he might as well be. That's the thing with bizarre personalities: They're often the center of attention, even when they're not supposed to be. They want to be the focal point and, hence, find ways to worm themselves into that position.
Like the real Wiseau, the Tommy of this film, played with uncanny accuracy by its director James Franco, is a mystery. We never learn his country of origin, which is a legitimate question, given his indeterminate accent and shaky command of English (He insists he's from New Orleans, to the belief of nobody). We never figure out how he has a bank account bulky enough to finance his pet project's $6 million budget entirely on his own—with plenty of reserve cash to spare, according to a bank teller. We don't learn if his movie is a flight of dramatic fancy or something more autobiographical. We don't even know whether or not we're supposed to like Tommy.
He is, though, the most prevalent force in the film, because that is the only way Tommy knows how to be. Our first encounter with him is at an acting class in San Francisco, where he takes the famous "Stella!" scene from A Streetcar Named Desire and runs with it. He literally does so at points—running around the stage between bouts of over-the-top gesticulating and, in one moment, climbing a lighting rig. Everyone in the class is uncomfortable or outright horrified by the outburst. Except for Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), that is.
Greg is Tommy's opposite. He's handsome, while Tommy is often times described as looking like a vampire or a stereotypical villain. Greg's performance in class is so low-key that he doesn't even face the audience while reciting his lines. That's one thing they have in common: They're both terrible actors. It's just that Tommy's awfulness is of the aggressive variety, while Greg is so underwhelming that he's almost apologetic in his technique.
Tommy introduces Greg to his beliefs on acting—always loud, always big, always discomforting to an audience. They become fast friends, and Tommy invites Greg to be his roommate at his other apartment in Los Angeles. They'll make it big together.
It doesn't work out that way, of course. Then, an idea presents itself: Why don't they make their own movie together?
After this lengthy introduction in Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber's screenplay (based on a book by the real Sestero and Tom Bissell), the film turns to a lengthy recreation of the in-front-of-the-camera and behind-the-scenes mishaps of the making of The Room. There's plenty of material here. Tommy has never written a screenplay, meaning that he has no concept of basic plot structure or dialogue (A character reveals she has breast cancer at one point, and when people point out that the plot point is never raised again, Tommy says that it's "a twist"). He has never directed anything, and with his cast and crew (played by a slew of recognizable people, including Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, and Jacki Weaver), his way is that of an authoritarian dictator. We know his acting abilities are atrocious, and he can't seem to hide how demented his internal logic can be (After his character is told a story about domestic abuse, Tommy repeatedly decides—take after take and after some notes from people on set—that the natural response is to laugh at the tale).
When the film focuses on the details of the production, this is really funny stuff, and when it shows how Tommy assumes a tyrannical taskmaster's position with his cast and crew, it's very uncomfortable. The film may take Greg's perspective for its narrative thrust, but there's no way to escape Tommy. He insults everyone on set. For a sex scene, he walks around naked—with only sock covering his penis—and, in between bouts of insulting his leading actress' looks, orders the cinematographer to keep the camera focused on his nude butt. Everybody has thoughts of quitting, but they stay because, somehow, Tommy's checks keep clearing.
We can understand why the members of the cast and crew stick around, but it's never quite clear why the film itself is so oddly enamored with Tommy. It's a bit more than feeling pity for a man whose aims far outreach his talents. That, we could comprehend and even sympathize with, but there's something almost sinister beneath Tommy's incompetence and insecurities that doesn't engender much relatability or compassion.
The film is still funny—hilarious at points—and an enlightening look at the production of one of the most infamous movies ever made. The Disaster Artist tries for more, particularly in the friendship between Greg and Tommy (It's so, so tempting to put that description in quotes), but for anything more to work, the film would have to truly come to terms with the Tommy we see.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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