THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)
Dir.: James Franco
American film has seen no shortage of "so bad it's good" storytelling. From Manos: The Hands of Fate to Plan 9 From Outer Space and a few dozen films in between, there's something fascinating about watching a movie that's so bad, so poorly constructed and composed, that sometimes watching a movie so terrible becomes an enjoyable experience on its own. The Room is potentially the current king of 21st century "so bad it's good" filmmaking, as it has spawned countless fans, thousands of midnight screenings, and a cult reverence over the last decade. Its place in cinematic history is further cemented with the Franco brothers' tribute, The Disaster Artist, a film based on the book written by co-star of The Room, Greg Sestero. The film tells the story of the friendship of Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director and main star of The Room, and Greg, his co-star and best friend, and how their passion for acting and their unwavering commitment to make their mark in Hollywood led to the creation of one of the most significant cult classics in contemporary cinema.
The narrative begins from the time Greg meets Tommy at an acting class, up until the premiere night of their film, and the main themes are universal for all artistic hopefuls: commitment, ambition, and fearlessness. This film differentiates from just being an inspirational biopic by focusing on not only Tommy Wiseau as a hopeful auteur, but also equally on Greg Sestero as an everyday guy just trying to follow his dream. Tommy and Greg arrive at a time in their lives where they are equally disenfranchised, a time where nobody encourages them or believes in them, not even Greg's mother, in a key early scene that proves subtly heartbreaking. It's a film with a highly compelling emotional core, and it helps that the Franco brothers' chemistry and performances remain grounded and real, despite the over-the-top shenanigans of Tommy that occur in each scene. The pacing drags a little bit in the beginning, and it takes some time to get to the point where both actors decide to create The Room, but once their filming of the cinematic master/disasterpiece, the story becomes more enthralling, more character development begins to occur, and the shenanigans amplify.
The acting in this film is pretty servicable for most of the supporting cast; but it remains mostly the Franco brothers' show. James Franco will definitely receive attention for his committed and insane performance as the equally insane real life lizard person Wiseau, but I was also rather impressed with Dave's acting as Greg. Even though Greg Sestero seems to be a normal person, Dave remains the emotional core of the film, as we see events mainly through his perspective and his down-to-earth performance is recognizable as empathetic and sincere. There are a plethora of celebrity cameos, and it seems like everyone and their third cousin showed up to play a small scene in the film, but there is never a cameo that is so big that detracts from the film. Even people like Bryan Cranston and Judd Apatow, whom play themselves in the film, don't overstay their welcome. The focus is singularly (or doubly?) on Greg and Tommy, and the Franco brothers' performances anchor the film's focus throughout its runtime.
Perhaps the weakest aspects of the film lie in the cinematography and score. Or perhaps weak would be too harsh of a word. The film is shot on film in a standard fashion, and the script does poke fun at certain risk-taking overly-auteurish statements, like when Tommy requests to buy not only 35mm film cameras but also HD ones, because "we shoot in both," and Greg justifying that Tommy is a visionary. With this being said, Franco could have added a little artistic flourish to some scenes and it would have been a welcome surprise. The cinematography is at its best when it's bringing homages to The Room and showing the behind the scenes chaos that occured on set, but in the thirty or so minute prologue whereupon Greg and Tommy first meet, it's quite nearly a bore to watch. The score is moderately effective, with some interesting soundtrack choices to fit the comedic tone that the film goes for, but nothing on the level of biopics that have already come out, such as Jackie, a film that for all its problems had a unique, ominous and highly memorable score. It's nothing that the film should be admonished for, but it did take a little bit of enjoyment out of watching the film for me.
The Disaster Artist is a great film, whether you've seen The Room or not. It tells a compelling story of two men who did not let anyone stop them for achieving their dreams, even when the world remained against them at every turn. It shows Tommy and Greg's flaws as well as their mutual admiration, and it does so with charismatic performances and a great balance of comedy and drama. This is the best I've seen Dave Franco, and one of the most memorable performances that James Franco has done, and by far the best direction I've seen from him in a directing career that's been hit or miss up to this point. It's not perfect, and I don't think it would rank among my top ten films of the year, but it's still worth checking out for the performances and just for the sheer audacity of the true story behind not only one of the greatest terrible movies of all time, but an intimate look at a friendship that both parties did not ultimately take for granted.