MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a keenly crafted love letter to trash cinema

Bolstered by a sympathetic eye and a wonderfully grand performance from James Franco, this is a true cinephile fever dream

| December 7, 2017

I never actually saw “The Room” until this last March. During my Spring Break trip to New York, on a snowy, wet day, my friend decided that it was the perfect time to expose me to the pinnacle of trash cinema. I’m not someone who particularly likes laughing at bad movies, as I like to find my enjoyment in actually enjoying what the film has to offer beyond just how bad it is. That being said, “The Room” was different. Nothing in the film made sense, and seemingly at every turn, something new and even more fucked up than before would occur. Even then, “The Room” made me grimy in the low-budget aspect of the film, as well as the general uneasiness that Tommy Wiseau exhibited in his nature and the character of Johnny. “The Room” was the Murphy’s Law of film, anything that could’ve gone wrong on the film, did go wrong. Something this unbelievably bad with such an enigmatic lead at the helm of nearly every aspect of the film doesn’t have a great story behind it. This is where “The Disaster Artist” steps in.

Based on a 2013 recollection by “The Room” co-star Greg Sestero. “The Disaster Artist” follows 19-year-old Sestero (Dave Franco) as he traverses the world of becoming an actor while living with his mother (Megan Mullally) in San Francisco. At an acting class in 1998, Sestero meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a confident, mysterious, but ultimately untalented actor who struggles to be taken seriously. Inquiring about how to become more confident, Sestero befriends Wiseau, and he soon finds himself whisked away to Los Angeles to pursue a serious acting career when Wiseau reveals his extra apartment from an unknown supply of seemingly endless money. Despite being close friends with Wiseau, Sestero doesn’t know how old he is, where he is actually from (he says New Orleans, despite a heavy Eastern European accent) and no one knows where his money has come from. Unsatisfied with their results in Los Angeles, Wiseau soon writes a screenplay for a film he intends for himself and Sestero to star in. Putting up the entire budget himself, they soon start production on “The Room,” which in addition to writing and starring in, Wiseau also is producing and directing. Soon into production, the team realizes that they are on the most memorable and possibly infuriating set of their life, with Wiseau calling the shots in perhaps the most bizarre ways possible.

There’s a fine line that “The Disaster Artist” dances, one that could go in either a cruel, exploitative direction, or that of a love letter to the process of filmmaking and the ways it can be broken. “The Disaster Artist” is far more the second one than the first one, with the only elements of the film feeling anything but genuine are the laughs brought by Tommy’s antics, which, when watching interviews with him, are impossible to believe aren’t anything but 100% true. The thing about “The Disaster Artist” is that, while it is by and large the funniest film I’ve seen this year, it isn’t a film that explicitly tries to be funny in its execution, but that they come the sheer ridiculousness that Wiseau brings to the film and how every little thing he did led to each element of “The Room” that we find enjoyable or funny today. Having been “99% approved” by the actual Wiseau, with his only gripe being the lighting in the first act of the film (for some reason?), everything begins to make sense in the grand scheme of things. Just how little things influence some of the most iconic parts of wonderful movies, the same can be done for some of the worst too.

James Franco as Wiseau is simply a performance that has to be seen to be believed. The way that Franco nails every little nuance about Wiseau is unreal, one that obviously took a great deal of time to nail down perfectly. It’s almost a shame that there’s such a massive cast to this film, because there’s no one else on screen you can pay attention to but James Franco (albeit for a small cameo that I did not see coming). When a cast can include people like Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, Paul Scheer, Jacki Weaver, among others, and James Franco still finds a way to steal every single scene he’s in, this is a special performance. I really hope that the Academy doesn’t overlook his performance for the sheer fact that the film is a comedy, it’s simply too masterful to ignore.

Despite being so steeped in laughter and hijinks, “The Disaster Artist” is also an incredibly touching film about the lengths people will go to to realize a vision and a dream, even at the behest of everyone involved. Wiseau might be controlling, stubborn, occasionally sexist, unethical, selfish, among other crazy things, but he’s a man with a dream that went out and made it a reality, even if the end product wasn’t exactly what he expected it to be. It’s a bit ironic that the film detailing the worst film of all time is a serious contender at awards shows this year, and I really hope Wiseau can get his day in the sun he always wanted with this.

Perplexing as it may be, but “The Disaster Artist” was produced at New Line Cinema, with Warner Bros. Pictures set up to distribute the film through their production deal, but for some reason, Warner Bros. Pictures decided against releasing the film in the United States, relinquishing distribution rights to A24. While I can’t imagine why a major studio would want to pass up the option of releasing a film like this, A24’s touch on the marketing and distribution of this film fits perfectly, with an edgy feel to it that only A24 could hit square on the head in its marketing.

“The Disaster Artist” is a whole new level of mets that the film world hasn’t seen before, but the way in which James Franco, who ironically also directed and produced the film on top of starring in it (life imitates art), crafts the film makes it feel entirely more lifelike than I think any other filmmaker could. For an actor with such a grasp on the magnetic role he occupies, it’s actually pretty smart for him to take on the film that surrounds him. There’s a real understanding of the process that was “The Room” that, however ridiculous it might’ve been, has a real rooting in what Wiseau wanted and how he planned on going about it. The understanding of Wiseau on more than just a performance-based level, however wonderful the performance might be, into a more emotional and deep level, makes the film surprisingly engaging for audience members who might want to do more than just laugh at Wiseau. He’s a human, a mysterious enigmatic human, but a human nonetheless, and to paint him as anything less or anything more would’ve been a cruel decision, but James Franco’s understanding on Wiseau and the job he wanted to get done, it’s a surprisingly restrained, dramatic approach to it that’s shockingly moving.

“The Disaster Artist” is the best comedy of the year, and in a year with films like “Rough Night” (yes, I loved “Rough Night” thank you very much) and “Girls Trip” leading the way, that’s a great accomplishment in itself. But aside from being incredibly funny, “The Disaster Artist” understands a lot about its subjects and its audience that makes it a much deeper film than it might appear to be on the surface. James Franco has a real emotional understanding of not only Wiseau, but that of those who surround him, painting each side of the puzzle with an over-the-top dexterity that makes everyone surprisingly sympathetic beyond their initial character types. James Franco also understands that of the audience’s wants from the film, and while he understands we want to laugh, he knows that the main demographic of those seeing “The Disaster Artist” comes in cinephiles who truly want to know the story behind “The Room” in a way that doesn’t paint any side in a negative light. Even if it’s about a bad film, “The Disaster Artist” is a love letter to film that most films about filmmaking never can seem to nail down. It understands that good or bad, film can bring people together in ways that other media formats simply can’t do. “The Disaster Artist” doesn’t make light of the film’s inherent badness, but rather explains lovingly how a film like “The Room” can come to exist, and how sometimes, the stories behind a film can be just as grand as the stories in a film.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of A24

Directed by: James Franco
Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Andrew Santino, June Diane Raphael, Nathan Fielder, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Bret Gelman, Casey Wilson, Bob Odenkirk.
Runtime: 105 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
Now playing in select Charlotte-area theaters, also available in IMAX.

A24 and New Line Cinema present, in association with Good Universe, a Point Grey/Ramona Films production, a film by James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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