The Disaster Artist – A Review

Could it be….an honest to goodness movie review?

Being a movie buff, I’ve been aware of the existence of the cult movie The Room for quite a while, though I have never actually seen it. Part of the reason is because the film is kind of hard to find – unless you attend a midnight screening or own the film, it isn’t readily available on any streaming service. I also sometimes have a hard time with things that are considered so bad that they are good; more often than not, I just think these things are bad and don’t derive much pleasure from them. I like a very limited amount of cringe humor and knowing that The Room has become a classic because it is considered terrible hurts my heart a little. I enjoy the occasional schadenfreude, especially when it involves people that I already dislike, but laughing at someone having a dream and failing spectacularly at trying to make that it a reality wasn’t appealing to me.

So I went in to The Disaster Artist somewhat blind, not being a fan of The Room and not having read the book that the film is based on. I truly wasn’t sure what to expect, especially with James Franco starring and directing. I think James Franco is an interesting guy and while he’ll always have my loyalty from his stint on Freaks and Geeks (as does the rest of the cast), I can honestly say that I’m not always sure what the hell he’s doing with some of his projects. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of his appearance on General Hospital and he somehow managed to make the Lifetime movie Mother May I Sleep With Danger even more bat shit crazy in his remake (introducing lesbian vampires to the plot was an unexpected choice). But I’ll take weird over predictable any day of the week, so I’ve accepted that when it comes to James Franco I’m just along for the ride. I may not understand where we’re going and I may not think it all works, but at least I’m never bored.

It really came as no surprise that James Franco was a fan of The Room, since this honestly sounded like a movie that was right down his alley. And it is that apparent fondness for The Room and its bizarre creator Tommy Wiseau that makes The Disaster Artist so enjoyable. While there are definitely moments where you are laughing at Wiseau (depicted by James Franco) and his attempt to make a movie, The Disaster Artist never feels cruel. It’s a delicate line to walk, and Franco manages to pull it off.

The Disaster Artist tells the story of the events leading up to and including the release of The Room. James Franco co-stars with his brother Dave, who plays struggling actor Greg Sestero. Greg and Tommy meet in an acting class and while Tommy is admittedly odd, Greg is drawn to Tommy’s passion and inhibition. The pair form an unlikely friendship and decide to strike out together for Los Angeles to try and make a go of acting – despite Tommy’s mysterious background and financial situation. After both experiencing career setbacks, Tommy decides to write a film to showcase both them both – which Tommy will also direct. Never mind that Tommy doesn’t seem to have any idea about how movies should be made or isn’t necessarily talented; with a surprisingly bottomless influx of cash and a dream, the duo create The Room.

James Franco does an impressive job of actually becoming Tommy Wiseau; he eerily is able to capture the indeterminate accent and mannerism of this unique man. Seth Rogen, who appears in the film, said during an interview with Howard Stern that Franco stayed in character even while directing The Disaster Artist and that commitment is evident, especially during the post-credit scenes when scenes from The Room and The Disaster Artist run side-by-side. All the actors do a nice job of recreating the mannerisms of the actors in The Room, but James Franco really goes above and beyond.

While The Disaster Artist is about the making of a terrible movie, it is also about the friendship of Greg and Tommy. I think casting the Franco brothers was actually a wise choice, as they have the ideal chemistry and familiarity to tell that story (Dave Franco’s wife Alison Brie also appears, so the film was a true family affair). In an odd way, Tommy and Greg are amplified versions of how the Franco brothers tend to be perceived – James is an artist that makes some unusual professional choices while Dave is the earnest straight man who has had a more conventional career arc. The Franco brothers have not worked together previously and they seemed to have picked the perfect project for their first collaboration.

The Disaster Artist is a very funny movie that does have the occasional depressing moments. But the film never wallows in these too long and there is a definite lightness to the entire film.  Given that I’m beginning my Oscar death race which is usually filled with dark and draining fare, I especially appreciated a potential Oscar contender that was actually fun to watch. Now I’m obsessed with seeing The Room, which is returning to theaters for one-night-only screening on January 10th. I’d also pay to see a shot-by-shot recreation of The Room by the cast of The Disaster Artist. Can someone make this happen?

Right now The Disaster Office may be on the outside looking in come Oscar time, but I’m glad that I made the time to see it. It is easily among the best performances of both Franco brothers and plays beautifully to their respective strengths. The Room may not have made Tommy Wiseau famous, but The Disaster Artist just might. Based on the snippets of The Room that I’ve seen, I’m curious what else Wiseau is cooking up in that strange mind of his.

The Disaster Artist is currently in theaters.

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