"So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2017, All-Star Casts, Based on a bestselling book, Based on a Memoir, Based on a True Story, Biopics, Cinema Knife Fights, Colorful Characters, Comedies, Comedy-Drama, Compelling Characters, Cult Movies, James Franco, Judd Apatow, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Movie Directors, Movie History, Movies About Movies 0
THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)
Review by LL Soares
Forget about your superheroes and your Star Wars episodes, the movie I was most looking forward to, as 2017 comes to a close, was a little dittie from James Franco called THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017). Long-time readers here at Cinema Knife Fight will remember that I reviewed Tommy Wiseau’s “so bad, it’s hilarious” movie THE ROOM (2001), back in 2013, although I was a fan long before then. I also reviewed Greg Sestero’s book about filming the movie, THE DISASTER ARTIST, that year, which he wrote with Tom Bissell.
When the book first came out, I even got a chance to interview Greg Sestero, and he did mention that there was interest in adapting THE DISASTER ARTIST as a movie, but that was 2013, and then things were quiet for a few years, so I wondered if it would ever happen. Then the rumors started circulating that James Franco had bought the rights to the book and was going to play Tommy Wiseau. Which sounded great, but maybe too good to be true.
You never think projects like this will ever come to light.
Well, now it’s a reality. And, ironically, there’s been some buzz that James Franco has turned in a terrific performance that could go all the way to an Oscar nomination! Is it, again, too good to be true? We’ll find out. In the meantime, we now get to enjoy the movie version of Greg’s book.
THE DISASTER ARTIST begins with a bunch of talking heads, various celebrities, talking about their reactions to Wiseau’s THE ROOM when it came out. It turns out that the rabid cult that developed around this movie wasn’t limited to just us average people. Hollywood stars were enamored of it, too. Especially James Franco, since he went so far as to immortalize Wiseau’s cinematic disaster with a film of his own.
We meet Tommy and Greg in an acting class. Greg (Dave Franco, James’ brother and fellow actor, who also turns in a terrific performance here) is good looking, but stiff. He’s afraid to let loose in the acting exercises. He wants to be an actor, but is too afraid to really take a risk. His acting teacher (played by Melanie Griffith) gives him some discouraging feedback, and he goes back to his seat. But he’s immediately impressed with Tommy (James Franco) when he goes down to the stage and does a completely bizarre, over-the-top scene from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. He throws things, climbs the walls (literally), and rolls on the floor, and screams out “Stellaaaa.” All while the girl he asked to do the scene with him looks on in abject horror.
Tommy seems to be Greg’s exact opposite. He is fearless, confident, and refuses to believe criticism (even if it is completely justified).
Greg approaches Tommy after the class and asks if they can do a scene together sometime. Tommy is cocky, but also surprised. No one has willingly wanted to appear on stage with him before. He agrees that they should do it. Thus begins a friendship slated for cinematic history.
When Tommy shows up days later to practice the scene, Greg is surprised when they end up in a restaurant and Tommy demands that they do their scene there, loudly, in front of the other diners. At first, Greg holds back, feeling uncomfortable, but Tommy pulls him out of his shell. The dumb-founded restaurant-goers don’t know how to react when they’re done, so they applaud when Tommy prompts them.
Greg is in awe of Tommy, but Tommy is also pleasantly surprised to have found a friend, something that seems to be new to him. Tommy suggests they leave San Francisco and move to Los Angeles, where they can pursue their dream of being movie stars. Greg doesn’t believe it at first, but Tommy then tells him that he already has an apartment in L.A., so they’ll have a place to stay (the source of Tommy’s seemingly endless reserve of money is a mystery that is brought up several times during the movie, but the mystery itself is never really answered, just as in real life). They’ll leave the next day. Greg is flabbergasted (and his mother is more than a little suspicious of Tommy’s intentions when she finds out).
So, they become roommates, and Greg seems to have good luck right away, getting signed with an acting agent fairly quickly. But the jobs just aren’t coming. Meanwhile, Tommy seems to be having even worse luck scoring an acting role. The two of them get very frustrated with the system, and don’t see any way to break in.
One night, on the roof of their apartment building, Greg says it’s too bad they can’t just make their own movie. Tommy thinks about that and then says, “Why not?”
And so he begins writing the script that will become THE ROOM. The rest of the movie takes us through the odyssey of what it was like behind the scenes during the filming of THE ROOM. The movie itself is crazy enough, but the behind-the-scenes stuff shows us it was even crazier than we could imagine, with Tommy constantly at odds with his crew, constantly forgetting his lines when he has to act, and constantly engaging in behavior that has everyone scratching their heads. As he often says, the only person he trusts is Greg, so Greg becomes his surroagate in dealing with the cast and crew. Greg is “the normal one,” while Tommy is the mad genius (or so he believes) who keeps everything in a state of constant chaos.
But even Tommy and Greg have their problems when Greg gets a girlfriend, Amber (Alison Brie), and wants to move in with her (and leave the apartment he shares with Tommy). Tommy is heartbroken and feels betrayed. In revenge, he screws Greg out of a chance to play a role on a legitimate hit TV show, which makes Greg furious.
Somehow THE ROOM gets made, and everyone just assumes it will fall off the face of the earth. No one is going to want to see this thing! Except we all know what really happens, as the movie becomes a cult favorite, with audiences interacting with it in theaters much like the way audiences interact with THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975).
I knew this movie would have its funny moments, considering what it’s based on, but I was surprised to find that THE DISASTER ARTIST isn’t just a great comedy, it’s also a compelling drama about a strong friendship that is able to withstand the ups and downs of Hollywood. James Franco goes out of his way to show us Tommy’s human side, and gets us to sympathize with him. Sure, he’s a mysterious dude who won’t answer questions about his past, who refuses to adequately explain his Eastern-European accent or where his money comes from. And his script for THE ROOM makes absolutely no sense. But instead of coming off as some kind of alien being who no one can relate to, James Franco makes him a lonely, misunderstood guy with ambition to spare, but who never feels like he’s being embraced by the public he so badly wants to impress.
The friendship between Tommy and Greg seems to border on love at times, and the movie does a good job of making it believable. James Franco has the flashier role here, since Tommy is like a constantly popping firecracker, and even his just saying a line or two can be hilarious, but I thought Dave Franco was equally impressive as the incredibly earnest, naïve, and sometimes even dopey Greg. They’re two outsiders, trying to get inside. Tommy seems to have inexhaustable confidence (which may or may not be an illusion), but has difficulty interacting with others. Greg is good-looking and should have more of a future as an actor, except he isn’t very good at it. These are two flawed human beings trying to be successful, and you really grow to care about them.
And it’s this authenticity that makes the movie work. THE DISASTER ARTIST is just as much of a character drama as it is a comedy of errors. These aren’t two stooges stumbling through life. These are real guys who have higher ambitions than they have talent to fulfill them. And yet, they also have a huge amount of luck, otherwise their story wouldn’t have been turned into a movie to begin with.
If you think about it, THE DISASTER ARTIST is similar to Tim Burton’s excellent film ED WOOD (1994), the story of a filmmaker considered the worst director of all time (believe me, there have been a lot worse directors than Wood, and many of them have had “legit” jobs in Hollywood). In a lot of ways, Tommy Wiseau is like the Ed Wood of our time. And his story makes for just as compelling a movie.
James Franco does a great job here doing double duty as both the star of the film and directing it. The script, by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who also wrote the screenplays for 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, 2009, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, 2013, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, 2014, and PAPER TOWNS, 2015), is strong, based on the book by Sestero and Bissell. And there are a lot of strong supporting performances by people like Seth Rogen as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor, and Paul Scheer as Director of Photography Raphael Smadja. There’s a terrific ensemble as the cast of THE ROOM, including Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle, who played Lisa in the film; Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman, who played Denny; and Jackie Weaver as Carolyn Minnott, who played Lisa’s mother Claudette in the original film. Zac Effron has a small but memorable part as the hyper-intense Dan Janjigian, who played Chris-R in THE ROOM. Other cameos include Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Megan Mullally, Brett Gelman, and even Bryan Cranston!
I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I would while watching THE DISASTER ARTIST. Sure, there are some big laughs, but I was just as engrossed in the dramatic aspects of the film. Like the comedies of Judd Apatow (Apatow even has a cameo in it), this movie has a lot of heart, which adds a whole other dimension to what’s going on.
I recommend the movie to people who are already fans of THE ROOM and Tommy Wiseau, but I also recommend it to people who know nothing about THE ROOM and who are coming to all this fresh. Because either way, it works.
I give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2017 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives THE DISASTER ARTIST ~three and a half knives.