Saturday, December 09, 2017

Review | The Disaster Artist | 2017


Truth is often stranger than fiction, as James Franco surely discovered in making The Disaster Artist, a real-life tale that is perhaps one of the most singularly bizarre events in cinematic history. Franco himself stars as Tommy Wiseau, an amateur filmmaker who dreamed of being a Hollywood star. He, along with a 19-year-old aspiring actor named Greg (Dave Franco) he met in an acting class, decide to make their own movie after being turned down for part after part.

The result was The Room (2003), perhaps one of the most infamous bad movies ever made, a film that has gone down in history as a creative disaster of such epic proportions that it has actually managed to turn a profit on its reported $6 million budget through a successful series of midnight screenings. Now considered a cult classic, the story behind The Room is just as wild as the film itself. Wiseau, with his peculiar accent and idiosyncratic worldview, is often late to the set, unprepared, unaware of the filmmaking process, and obsessed with a singular artistic vision that only he understands. It isn't long before the cast and crew begins to realize that he has no idea what he's doing, and unrest starts to spread.

Paranoid and convinced that everyone is betraying him, Wiseau becomes increasingly volatile as the production lurches over its 40 day shooting schedule, throwing continuity out the window and lashing out at anyone who questions his methodology. It isn't long before even Greg, his one real friend, begins to question whether or not their dream of becoming real Hollywood filmmakers is actually worth it.

Even after watching the film, Wiseau remains an enigmatic figure. No one knows how old he is, where he's really from, or where he got his seemingly endless supply of money. Franco wisely doesn't attempt to unravel those mysteries, making Wiseau a quirky and somewhat endearing figure. His passion is undeniable, and The Disaster Artist celebrates that singular drive to create, even if the results aren't necessarily "good." It is reminiscent of Tim Burton's Ed Wood, and yet there is a seemingly different perspective here. Whereas Burton revered Wood and his films, Franco seems to be snickering at Wiseau even as he attempts to laud his persistence and drive. It even treats a scene that amounts to sexual assault by a filmmaker as fodder for laughs, which in 2017 feels a bit tone deaf.

As a result, its climax doesn't come across as touching so much as an attempt to reverse the film's previous lampooning of Wiseau with a last minute emotional coda. It calls to mind Michael Stephenson's Best Worst Movie, which walked that fine line with more finesse in its exploration of the cult phenomenon around Troll 2. Still, The Disaster Artist is undeniably funny, and Franco is impressive as Wiseau, turning in perhaps the most accomplished performance of his career. I'm just not sure that we're not laughing at Wiseau, rather than with him.

In the year that also brought us James Gray's masterful The Lost City of ZThe Disaster Artist feels like a lesser exploration of the kind of singular obsession that burns too brightly for its own good. It creates an indelible character, to be sure, but one can't quite escape the feeling that it's punching down rather than up, its detached irony ending up as too arch and smug to really stick the landing.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

THE DISASTER ARTIST | Directed by James Franco | Stars James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith | Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity | Now playing in theaters nationwide.

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