Review – The Disaster Artist

A24 just keeps chugging them out.  And this time, they have a potential mainstream hit on their hands in the form of The Disaster Artist.  The Disaster Artist chronicles the making of the true-life film The Room, which is widely considered to be the worst film of all-time (and please do not confuse The Room with 2015’s Room, which is amazing and one of my favorite films of the last few years).  More specifically, the film is based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (just rolls off the tongue.  If only the film had been called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made – Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.

Sestero was there for the whole thing, as he became friends with the writer, director, and producer of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, and was henceforth cast as a lead in The Room.  James Franco both directs The Disaster Artist and co-stars as Wiseau alongside his brother Dave Franco, who portrays Sestero.  Somewhat startlingly, however, neither are the first face that the viewer sees as the film opens.  Rather, that distinction belongs to Kristen Bell.  Bell kicks off a brief montage of famous, successful, and well-regarded actors and filmmakers as they discuss the legend and reputation of The Room, setting the stage for what’s to follow – especially for any in the audience who may not be aware of the infamous project whose production this film details.

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However, the film covers much more than just the making of an ill-fated film that was destined to become a cult classic.  It’s two parts buddy movie and three parts character study.  Yet, it’s difficult to study a character who has never truly been understood by anyone who knows him, and that is certainly the case for Tommy Wiseau.  The only thing that has ever been clear about Wiseau is that he badly longs to be a respected filmmaker and actor.  So that’s where Franco directs his attention.

The film is funny, but awkwardly so.  Half the time, one isn’t entirely sure if laughter is the desired response or if pity and sadness are more appropriate at the given moment.  This isn’t due to any sort of failing on Franco’s part.  Rather, it’s the exact opposite; Franco deftly succeeds at communicating the bewildering complexity of the situation.  The film that Wiseau is making is of course laughably bad.  But it’s also clear that everyone involved – Wiseau included – is pouring their heart into it and even counting on it to be their Big Break in Hollywood.  Before we see them begin to make their film, we get to know them as real people.  So it becomes difficult to laugh when they are seeing their hopes crumble right in front of them.  And even when laughs are drawn out of the viewer, they’re accompanied by a slight twinge of guilt.

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For me, personally, that’s actually what I loved most about The Disaster Artist.  With the continued growth and power of social media, it’s become increasingly easy for emotional children of all ages to mock, deride, and tear down others in cruel, hurtful, and unhelpful ways.  That often includes filmmakers.  And filmmakers are just people, like the rest of us.  Some of them are bad people (as has been made obvious in the news, lately), most of them are not, but all of them care about their work and all of them risk something when they put said work out into the public eye to be shared with the world.  It’s scary.  And, yes, they should be prepared for well-meaning, honest, informed criticism.  But that’s not the same thing as what’s often done in Facebook comments or on message boards or (especially) on Twitter.

These people put a piece of themselves into every film that they make and they feel what the film could feel if such a thing were possible.  Franco does an excellent job of getting the core humanity of the people behind this legendary (?) film across to the audience.  I can laugh along with Franco as he delivers a spot-on performance as Wiseau.  But I couldn’t laugh at Wiseau as he cluelessly made one poor decision after another, even as those around him tried to help him course correct.  Somewhere along the way during his mysterious life, he learned that no one can keep you from achieving your dreams.  But he never learned that it takes time, knowledge, help, and experience to actually pull it off with any degree of success.

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Just this morning, The Disaster Artist earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and James Franco earned a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.  Both are deserved.  Franco puts his whole self into every role he takes on.  And he’s willing to take any part for any project if it’s something that can help him grow as an artist and possibly help the others who are working on the project.  In fact, this is not Franco’s first time working with A24 Studios.  He helped them get off the ground by starring in their third film, the provocative Spring Breakers back in 2013.  He truly loves his craft and has kept his ego in check, and I’ve come to respect him a lot because of it.

Many are curious as to whether they need to see The Room before seeing The Disaster Artist and I can tell you that that is in no way necessary.  In fact, if you want to see The Room, good luck.  Its not available for streaming anywhere (legally) at all.  Nowhere.  It is screened regularly at certain movie theaters in larger cities but many, such as myself, don’t live in or near any of those cities.  It’s available to buy on blu-ray and DVD, but was sold out on Amazon, recently (I see now that the blu-ray is back in stock), but that’s a relatively expensive option.

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I have never seen The Room in its entirety, myself, though I have seen many of the more famous clips.  Being familiar with The Room will add an extra element of appreciation to the viewing experience, but it’s not remotely a requirement.  All one needs is to be ready to be surprised at the level of depth to the film and particularly the people portrayed within.  Also, stay put through the credits for a fun little treat.  But the real treat is the film, itself.  Go.  Laugh.  Feel bad about it.  And then enjoy.

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