Oscar Nominee 2018 Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist (2017)
Dir: James Franco

I’ve not seen ‘The Room’ beyond seeing a handful of clips in the context of discussions of it, and funnily enough, this movie doesn’t make me any more likely to watch it but in completely the right way. That sounds strange but I’ll explain.

Based on the book by Greg Sistero, this ostensibly tells the story of the making of the ‘best worst film ever made’, the unique Tommy Wiseau’s infamous ‘The Room’.

Meeting in an acting class in San Francisco in 1998, Tommy’s performance of a scene from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is an effective introduction to the character. Odd, melodramatic, overtly self-confident, traits that both drive and simultaneously undermine Wiseau are all on display from the start, though some of his deeper and more worrying ‘quirks’ take a little time to come to the fore. He’s such a fascinating figure in real life, as is the story of him making this film, you wouldn’t believe it was true if you didn’t know, but they do say that truth is stranger than fiction.

Strong casting is key to how well the work treads the thin line between adapting the book’s account of events and being comedic enough to entertain. Really it’s an ensemble of ‘Francos and friends’ with a strong leaning towards comedic qualities. Director James Franco casting himself and his brother Dave as the leads works pleasingly well, they have a great rapport that is conveyed in the instant close friendship that’s depicted. Keeping it in the family, Dave Franco’s wife (and therefore James’ sister-in-law) Allison Brie appears as Greg’s girlfriend. Close friend and frequent co-star Seth Rogen has a nice, more serious role, as a script supervisor whose experience far outweighs that of the director forcing him to take on increased responsibility. There are also small cameo roles for Josh Hutcherson and Zach Efron that I didn’t know about in advance so it was funny to see these really recognizable stars appear in such minor roles, linked no doubt through their associations to the Francos and an apparent love of ‘The Room’ shared by many.

I noticed a few little highlights of the writing, cleverly made points with a certain subtlety that would be alien to Wiseau. One of these, for example, is a scene in which we see the two leads singing along to Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Astley is known for that one song, only his fans would be able to name any others, but that song is singularly (in)famous enough to keep him in the zeitgeist, revived in recent years thanks to internet trends and the popularity of YouTube (I was recently complimented in a Vegas buffet for wearing a t-shirt that references it). The parallels between that and ‘The Room’ are clear. It’s an allusion that could easily be missed but it’s little touches like this that are skillful enough to help garner praise for the screenplay that has more depth than merely comically poking fun at an odd character and his infamous endeavors.

Where it was most lacking to me is that I didn’t feel it tried hard enough to delve deeply into the mystery of Tommy Wiseau. It’s very likely this was partly out of necessity to have the rights to the book and keep Tommy on-board with the film. There are moments where it almost tries to get answers, but this is really confined to just one scene in which a character pushes him a little harder for answers to those enduring questions, but they never come. I’d have liked the film to get some and elevate itself beyond just the comedic value of looking at the production, adding more depth to the enigma of Wiseau with perceptions nobody else generally cares to ponder on.

Also, I’m not sure that the reaction depicted at the film’s premiere is true to the facts. I would have imagined more people leaving the audience in despair and just walking out. The reactions shown feel more like they act as a form of foreshadowing to the way it’s screened now, as a cult ‘so bad it’s good’ film with audiences reveling in the flaws and enjoying the experience rather than the film itself.

A cameo appearance by Wiseau at the end supports just how good James Franco is in his approximation of him. To impress just how unbelievably bad ‘The Room’ is and support the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ notion, there’s a side-by-side comparison in the end credits that shows how close to the original film their recreated scenes are. These clips are more than enough of the original film to satisfy any need I might have felt to see ‘The Room’, I don’t need to watch the original to see how well they recreated it, these bits convinced me they have it spot on, I don’t need to waste two hours of my life confirming that. Usually, I’d be interested in watching a full film to get the complete story and character arcs, however, I’m pretty sure ‘The Room’ has neither of these on offer to make it worth watching in its entirety.

It’s a must-watch for fans of ‘The Room’ and will be a great double-bill adding fresh new life to those persistent cult screenings. Setting the inspiration aside, this will also have good value as a comedy film particularly for fans of the cast. It’s pretty funny and very well directed, a good quality level or two above the bawdy frat-boy comedies these actors frequently collaborate on. 

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