Before I go into my review, I think it’s worth mentioning that The Disaster Artist is a film that was pretty much tailor-made for viewers like me. Some of my favorite memories in college revolved around the consumption of s***ty cinema.
Practically every week a buddy and I would down beers and watch movies like Snitch’d, Post Impact, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, Birdemic, and of course, The Room. Above all of them stood The Room, not just due to its sheer awfulness, but due to the amount of actual coverage out there on the web.
Unlike most of those other movies, there was a lot of extra insight into the process behind the flick and the drama behind the scenes. While there were more than enough stories on the internet, years later, I was treated to the tell-all book from The Room actor and producer Greg Sestero. The book was called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made. It was an engrossing read, and not only whet my appetite as far as the story behind the story, but it painted a sympathetic picture of the eccentric writer-director-producer-star of the film, Tommy Wiseau.
So it’s with all that in mind that I ventured into The Disaster Artist, the much-anticipated (at least by me) adaptation of that true story.
For those who don’t know what to expect going into this, I suppose it’s worth telling the “what” behind it all. The Disaster Artist tells the true story of a young Greg Sestero. He’s a young actor, one of millions hoping to eventually make it big in Hollywood, but he has a huge problem. He gets terrible stage fright. While participating in an acting class, he meets the enigmatic and unabashed Tommy Wiseau, who encourages him not only to break out of his shell, but head to Hollywood and live with him so they can push each other to achieve their dreams. Little do they know that this would all lead to the eventual production of The Room, the best worst movie ever made.
So how did the film handle all this?
James Franco (who also directs the film), plays an amazing Tommy Wiseau. He perfectly emulates the iconic voice of the filmmaker, though while the voice and performance are as ridiculous as you’d hope, they never venture into caricature. At no point do you feel like we’re dealing with an SNL character here. Tommy Wiseau is a living, breathing person, and I couldn’t give Franco enough credit for striking that balance. Of course, it’s not just Franco who we have to thank for this. It’s also thanks to a strong script (which we’ll delve into more later). In the film, Tommy’s not just an odd guy. They take advantage of that aspect, yes, but it’s not the only captivating thing about Tommy. The film is careful to actually give him plenty of redeeming traits. He’s outgoing and fearless, and underneath it all is a broken an insecure man. Like the book that came before it, the film quickly becomes an intriguing character study of this lonely figure who unwittingly finds success in the oddest way.
Co-star Dave Franco has the difficult job of acting alongside his brother James, and he does a surprisingly strong job as well. He acts as the audience in the film, taking in Tommy’s eccentricities as the story goes on. While I can’t say whether or not he does a good job portraying the real Greg Sestero, Dave Franco perfectly plays a goodhearted kid who is both sympathetic and a bit of a pushover. You may not necessarily agree with him going along with Tommy, but you get the why behind it all. You get why Greg likes Tommy. You get why he defends him. You get why he can’t push back too hard against him. Finally, you feel just as trapped in this odd relationship as he does, but don’t necessarily blame him for it.
In the supporting roles, we have great actors like Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, and Alison Brie. Rogen and Scheer play two of the film crew who work on the film. Their jobs are essentially those of straight men, who are quick to push back against Tommy’s odd direction, but ultimately give in because it’s a paycheck. While they do have funny moments, there is a surprising amount of drama and conflict that the duo bring to the dynamic.
Brie plays the role of Amber, Greg’s girlfriend. She admittedly doesn’t have a lot to do here, and is ultimately a plot device to get between Greg and Tommy. While it’s an effective role, there’s not a lot of meat to it, which is fine since the focus is on Greg and Tommy.
The Disaster Artist is a film that would have been easy to mess up. Admittedly, when all said and done, I probably would have liked it on some level, regardless, but this adaptation doesn’t fall into the trap of simply making it about the making of the film. They could have just played out the “greatest hits” of all the drama behind the scenes, but writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber made a point to give this film an emotional core.
As mentioned above, this leads to performances that aren’t mere caricatures of their real-life counterparts, but living breathing characters that you actually care about. They focus on the humanity of the story, and the icing on the cake here are the source material and the ridiculous attention to detail they put into recreating shots from The Room.
My only gripe with the film is that it starts to feel a bit long during the filming process. At only one hour and 43 minutes in length, that may come across as a huge problem, but in the grand scheme of things, whenever things started to drag for me, they were able to throw in things to keep me interested.
In short, it’s a film that’s any better than it had any right to be, and even if you’re not a fan of terrible cinema, there’s a whole lot for you to love if you’re interested in layered characters. It’s a great show piece for both Francos, and another great notch in James Franco’s directorial belt.
Story fans will likely love this film, film fans will likely enjoy it even more, and The Room fans will find no better way to celebrate this king of bad films than The Disaster Artist.
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The Disaster Artist hits theaters on December 8, 2017.