Disaster Artist, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/01/17 09:43:30
(Worth A Look)
In the 14 years since it initially moved—perhaps “oozed” is a more apt word for it—from deserved obscurity to a bizarre but genuine place in the pop cultural firmament, I have never once written at any sort of length about “The Room,” the thoroughly demented stab at Tennessee Williams-style melodrama that was done in such an inexplicably awful (when it wasn’t just inexplicable) manner that a loyal and ever-growing cult following developed around the film, which was embraced as unintentional comedy of the highest order, and its singular writer/director/producer/star, the one and only Tommy Wiseau, a development that has inspired no small amount of personal relief. Look, I am not unfamiliar with the pleasures that can be had from sitting down and watching a truly bad movie unspool and unravel before ones eyes—I was attending bad movie festivals when I was still a barefoot boy with cheek of tan, I used to carry a copy of “The Golden Turkey Awards” around like a Bible and I have willingly watched “Manos: The Hands of Fate” multiple times without the MST3K commentary—and I have watched it a number of times in situations ranging from at home on DVD to the full-out in-theater experience but I am at a loss to explain what the appeal, no matter how ironic in nature, could possibly be. If a group of decidedly anti-social tolls decided to make a film about relationships despite lacking any working knowledge in the areas of human behavior, cinematic craft or the basic cadences of the English language, what they might come up with would only begin to approximate what Wiseau slapped together. To make matters worse, “The Room” commits the one sin that no movie hoping for camp classic status can afford to make—it is boring beyond belief. which no amount of enthusiastic spoon-throwing or impassioned impressions of Wiseau’s inimitable (though instantly imitated by all who encounter it) accent can quite overcome.The one bright side to the cult ascendancy of “The Room” is that its unexpected second life as the epicenter of its own cottage industry helped to inspire “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made,” a fascinating 2013 book co-written by Greg Sestero that chronicled both the insane circumstances behind its production and the ups and downs of the strange friendship that developed between the two struggling actors that eventually led to Wiseau creating “The Room” and bringing his friend and occasional roommate in to help work on it. Like the film that was its subject, “The Disaster Artist” also became a cult sensation as well and, perhaps inevitably, was soon sold to be transformed into a movie itself that would find the seemingly inexhaustible James Franco both direct and star as Wiseau himself opposite his own brother, Dave, as Greg. How all of this will play to anyone who has never even dreamed that such things as “The Room” or Tommy Wiseau himself could possibly exist is questionable at best but the film, while uneven in certain regards, is a far more entertaining work than the film that inspired it and offers viewers some of the biggest laughs found in a movie this year.
As the film opens, Greg is a handsome and charming 19-year-old whose ambitions of being an actor are being being stymied by his inability to come off as anything other than a complete stiff onstage. After stumbling through another scene in another acting class, he is followed by a weirdo classmate who looks and sounds like the love child of Woody Tobias Jr. and a lint trap and whose rendition of the most famous scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire” consists entirely of screaming “Stella” while writhing around in a manner that would inspire most observers to place something in his mouth so as to prevent him from biting his tongue off. This, of course, is Tommy Wiseau and while the teacher (Melanie Griffith) and the other students are stupefied by what they have seen, Greg is weirdly inspired and befriends him in the hopes of learning how he can also be just as fearless in front of an audience. The two strike up a fast, if odd, friendship and even though Greg has no clue about any aspect of Tommy’s existence—he is clearly at least a decade older than he claims to be, has an accent that sounds closer to Transylvanian than the New Orleans background that he claims and he seems to be inexplicably loaded with cash—he is swept up by his new pal’s audaciousness and when Tommy decides that they should move from San Francisco to Los Angeles to pursue acting for real, he ends up moving in with him after having known him for only a couple of weeks. Once they arrive in L.A., Greg quickly scores an agent, auditions and even lands a girlfriend in bartender Amber (Alison Brie) while Tommy receives nothing but barely disguised scorn from practically everyone he encounters, especially when he insists that he is the romantic hero type instead of the weirdo villain that he could have made a mint at without breaking a sweat. Frustrated, Tommy decides to write a screenplay that he will also direct, produce and star in as an all-American hero type who seems to have it all—a good job, a loving girlfriend and a lifelong best friend—only to eventually be betrayed by all three.
That project would, of course, become infamous as “The Room” and as “The Disaster Artist” shows in astonishing detail, the only thing more bizarre than the finished product was its production. Instead of choosing between shooting in 35MM or HD, he not only decides to shoot it in both formats simultaneously—an insane decision since the two have wildly different lighting requirements (the HD version was never seen but the look of the 35MM is so crummy as a result of this choice that it looks as if the film was produced for $6,000 instead of the rumored $6,000,000)—but he buys both camera packages outright instead of simply renting them as most productions would do. The actors (played by the likes of Ari Graynor, Josh Hutchinson, Jackie Weaver and Zac Efron) who make it through Wideau’s strange casting sessions are dumbfounded by the screenplay while the behind-the-scenes personnel (including Seth Rogan and Paul Scheer) are torn between laughing at the ineptitude on display or weeping at the waste. As for Wiseau himself, the chance to fulfill his creative ambitions at last drives him to new heights of weirdness—he cannot remember his lines from the screenplay that he wrote, he denies the cast and crew such basics as air conditioning or bottles of water and takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in wandering around nearly naked during the lengthy shooting of the film’s interminable sex scenes (if that is indeed the phrase for what appears to be him rutting against his poor co-star’s navel)—and even begins to strain his friendship with Greg as well.
Like the book, “The Disaster Artist” basically tells two stories—the production of “The Room” and the chronicle of the strange friendship between Tommy and Greg—but unlike the book, one is handled much better in the film than the other. The stuff about the making of the film is absolutely spot-on and contains some incredible laughs. Franco and his cast have recreated the key moments from Wiseau’s epic with a precision bordering on the insane. (To show just how close they have come to approximating the original, there are side-by-side comparisons between the two versions during the end credits.) Obviously, Tommy’s increasingly demented notions of achieving his cinematic vision (such as constructing an alleyway set instead of simply shooting in the actual alleyway located only a few feet away) are hilarious—imagine a real-life and utterly sincere version of “The Producers”) are hilarious but what really makes them work is the way that Franco and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and the actors approach them without the snideness that others might have deployed. Take the big scene in which the shooting of what would become one of the film’s most infamous moments—one requiring nothing more than Tommy stepping out onto a chintzy rooftop set and delivering maybe three lines—becomes an agonizing ordeal due to Tommy’s inability to remember any of the lines or the staging. At first, watching Tommmy flounder with his own literally unspeakable dialogue is hilarious but as it goes on, we finally begin to feel a certain empathy for him and his plight and when he finally does pull it off after something like 30-odd takes, we feel the same mixture of genuine elation and simple relief that the rest of the crew is experiencing.
Where the film doesn’t quite work is in its depiction of the friendship that develops between Tommy and Greg and how the rift that develops between their characters in the film is mirrored off the set as well. In the book (which, if I haven’t said so already, is an absolute must-read), their relationship, on and off the set, is painted in much darker terms darker terms—so dark, in fact, that at one point, Greg writes about going to see “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and recognizing many of the disturbing behavioral tics of the sociopathic Tom Ripley in his friend, colleague and roommate. In the film, however, the relationship has been smoothed out and reworked along more traditional lines and the results are not nearly as impressive or memorable as the version chronicled in print. This is not the fault of the two Francos, both of whom deliver exemplary performances that bounce beautifully off of each other—Dave does his best work to date as the wide-eyed and perpetually astonished Greg and what James does as Tommy goes beyond mere imitation to a sort of borderline possession that nicely matches up with Tommy’s monomaniacal desire to get his film made. My other problem with the film is in regards to the ending, which awkwardly tries to telescope the gradual reception of “The Room” as some kind of unintentional comedy masterpiece so that it is immediately received as such during its premiere screening, a reception that both Greg and Tommy instantly accept. I understand why the film does it this way—the point of “The Disaster Artist” is the Tommy-Greg friendship and not the cult deification of “The Room”—but I think it might have played better and had a more impactful ending if it had gone on for another 15 minutes to show not only how the cult really began to develop but to also examine Tommy’s reaction to his achingly sincere cry of the heart being ironically celebrated by spoon-throwing hordes.Because of those hiccups, “The Disaster Artist” misses its shot at greatness but it is still an enormously entertaining work that serves as a celebration of the artistic process and an affectionate to the perseverance of a man who, for all the laughs and snide comments, created a truly singular work of artistic expression that has been experienced by audiences around the world. For fans of the book and “The Room,” it is obviously a must-see, even if they have some of the same misgivings about the way that certain aspects of the story have been smoothed over or ignored entirely. For those without a working knowledge of the filmography of Tommy Wiseau, some of the in-jokes will not make any sense but they can easily pick up on and appreciate both the weirdness of the production of “The Room” and the genuinely inspiring friendship between Tommy and Greg. Oh yeah—whatever you do, stay all the way through the end credits for a final surprise. Trust me, it is worth it.
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