Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

It’s probably the most infamous movie of all time. The Room is a masterpiece of everything bad – bad story, bad acting, bad camerawork, bad editing, and a whole lot of bad ideas. But because it’s so bad, and because the confusingly-wealthy Tommy Wiseau got so many people to watch his film, The Room has gained a cult following and is now one of the most popular films of all time. It’s difficult to say what about The Room was intentional and what wasn’t, but whatever happened, this disaster of a movie has taken its place in film history.

The combination of Franco’s performance and that subtle makeup is so good

The Disaster Artist tells the story of how The Room got made. The 2017 film, which is based on a book-cowritten by The Room star Greg Sestero, focuses on the relationship between Sestero and the infamous Tommy Wiseau. The story begins with Sestero meeting Wiseau at an acting class in San Francisco. After the two bond over their shared love of acting, they move to Wiseau’s apartment in Los Angeles to pursue professional acting careers. After a year passes with little success, Sestero and Wiseau have an idea to make their own movie. Wiseau writes a screenplay, pays exorbitant amount of money on equipment and cast and crew, and filming of The Room begins. As the movie is being made, difficulties on set arise, while Sestero begins to have his own success both professionally and romantically.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adapted the screenplay for this film, and will likely be looking at an Oscar nomination for their great work. However, as director and star, it is James Franco who is most responsible for making The Disaster Artist the film that it is. I’ll be honest, Franco’s involvement worried me considering he’s directed some films almost as bad as The Room (but unattractively so). What surprised me, then, was the fact that Franco is the person most responsible for making The Disaster Artist the incredibly entertaining film that it is. The Disaster Artist is hilarious, thought-provoking, and even touching.

James Franco totally nails that weird, weird laugh

As a director, Franco does some fantastic work in putting this screenplay to the screen. The movie focuses almost entirely on the friendship between Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau, allowing the story to become much more sensitive than we’d expect from a movie about The Room. Unfortunately, this is often held back by Dave Franco’s performance as Sestero, simply because Dave’s character was far more normal than his brother’s, and Dave couldn’t seem to figure out exactly what to do with him beside smile. The scenes focused on the bond between Sestero and Wiseau were the weakest parts of the movie because of Dave, but also because it was clear that James Franco’s vision was somewhere else.

As a director, James Fracno’s focus was on the scenes about The Room, taking place on set. The dynamic James Franco created with these scenes is fantastic, showing a brilliant escalation in the emotions of all the character. James Franco’s Wiseau and the ensemble performance of the cast and crew of The Room makes us as an audience laugh hysterically, cringe painfully, and become angry when some things are taken too far. There’s one scene in particular that James Franco filmed in a long take with the entire ensemble, but especially featuring himself, Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, and Paul Scheer. This scene is emotional in several different ways; it’s construction through the screenplay and Franco’s directing, and the execution through the camerawork and ensemble performance is truly spectacular.

The Franco brothers with the real Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero

The one thing that The Disaster Artist is being talked about the most, and rightly so, is James Franco’s performance as Tommy Wiseau. In many ways, this is an easy performance, and in many other ways, this performance is very, very difficult. It’s easy because Wiseau’s is such an extravagant personality and appearance, that an impersonation is sufficient for many different scenes. The difficult part is that a film like this requires a deeper look into the character of Wiseau, meaning the performance has to be something more than an impersonation. For about 90% of the movie, Franco is simply doing an impersonation. But for that other 10%, Franco puts forth the best work of his career.

Where the film found its biggest flaw, unfortunately, was in the fact that this deeper look into Wiseau’s character is limited to about 10% of the film. Throughout the film, the story, the performances – everything begged for us to learn something about Wiseau. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen because the actual Wiseau never gave Franco or the screenwriter’s something to reveal. This film could have been marvelously improved if some of the mystery surrounding this strange man had been revealed, whether factually or emotionally. The problem, though, was not that the film didn’t have this new information. The problem was that James Franco wanted so badly to reveal something and structured his film with that in mind, but couldn’t. Because of this, our expectations as an audience are built, then severely let down. It’s disappointing and it leaves you discontent and wanting more.

The Disaster Artist is a fantastic movie, I’m not trying to downplay that. The problem is that Franco revealed his inexperience by having only one vision for this film, and being unable to adjust that vision when its most important element was impossible. So while this is still a great and hilarious movie, that one flaw is going to make The Disaster Artist a film we forget about before The Room.

I give The Disaster Artist an 8.0/10.

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