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The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist (2017) movie poster The Disaster Artist

Theatrical Release: December 1, 2017 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: James Franco / Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber (screenplay); Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell (book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made)

Cast: James Franco (Tommy Wiseau/Johnny), Dave Franco (Greg Sestero/Mark), Seth Rogen (Sandy Schklair), Ari Graynor (Juliette Danielle/Lisa), Alison Brie (Amber), Jacki Weaver (Carolyn Minnott/Claudette), Paul Scheer (Raphael Smadja), Zac Efron (Dan Janjigian/Chris-R), Josh Hutcherson (Philip Haldiman/Denny), June Diane Raphael (Robyn Paris/Michelle), Megan Mullally (Mrs. Sestero), Jason Mantzoukas (Peter), Andrew Santino (Scott Holmes/Mike), Nathan Fielder (Kyle Vogt/Peter), Joe Mande (Todd), Sharon Stone (Iris Burton), John Early (Chris), Melanie Griffith (Jean Shelton), Hannibal Buress (Bill), Charlyne Yi (Safoya B. Asare), Bob Odenkirk (Stanislavsky Teacher), Tommy Wiseau (Henry), Casey Wilson (Casting Director #6), Zoey Deutch (Bobbi) / As Themselves: Ike Barinholtz, Kevin Smith, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston

 

As someone who watches movies for a living, I can tell you as well as anyone that there are a lot of bad movies out there. Movies that are so bad they're good though? Those are rare. By that criteria, The Room is pretty special. The 2003 independent movie is as enjoyable a bad movie as has ever been made. The closest thing to a forebear might be Plan 9 from Outer Space
and other 1950s B-movies written and directed by Ed Wood. Those ignonimous labors of love were immortalized by Tim Burton in 1994's Ed Wood. Now here is The Disaster Artist to celebrate and marvel at all the decisions that made The Room so delightfully terrible, a cult classic that continues to draw crowds in regular midnight showings in metropolises all over the world.

The promising blueprint for The Disaster Artist was the 2013 book of the same name penned by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Sestero, a line producer and leading actor of The Room, detailed his experiences making what his subtitle declared "The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made" and the friendship with writer/director/star/producer/editor Tommy Wiseau out of which the film was born. It was highly entertaining material and a far better read than you'd expect given the caliber of the acting and storytelling in Sestero's claim to infamy. Film rights were quickly snatched up by James Franco, one of Hollywood's many fans of the film and one with the rare power to direct, produce, and star in this adaptation.

After collecting some celebrity testimonials on The Room from the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Scott, the film opens in 1998 at a San Francisco acting class where Sestero (Dave Franco, the director's younger brother) meets Wiseau (James Franco), a bizarrely-fashioned, curiously-accented loner who disarms the class by writhing around on stage and shouting "Stella" in a performance inspired by Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Sestero asks the dark-haired Wiseau to read a scene with him and the two do so in a restaurant at a volume much higher than their fellow diners would expect. With this, a friendship is born.

In "The Disaster Artist", James Franco directs himself and plays Tommy Wiseau, who directed himself in "The Room."

It is a strange friendship. Wiseau refuses to discuss his seemingly Eastern European sound, his age, or the source of his money that allows him to afford a Los Angeles apartment he rarely sees in addition to the San Francisco one he calls home. But he and the handsome Sestero share a dream to make it as actors. When it becomes clear that the industry isn't going to give them a chance, Sestero encourages Wiseau to make a movie on his own, which he does, with an absolute minimum of experience, training, and knowledge as to what filmmaking entails. Wiseau pens the seemingly autobiographical script, in which he'll star and Sestero will play his best friend.

The movie depicts this catastrophic production, which strikes us as being clearly doomed from the start. Wiseau decides to buy rather than rent equipment and opts to shoot simultaneously on film and in digital video. From hiring crew to casting the roles, Wiseau doesn't seem to have a clue and isn't interested in listening to anyone around him who might know better.

Franco recreates sets and scenes from The Room in impressive detail. There's the greenscreen rooftop set, in which Wiseau's protagonist Johnny denies accusations of abusing his girlfriend Lisa (Ari Graynor), throws a water bottle, and casually greets his neighbor/best friend all in one breath. There is Lisa's mother (Jacki Weaver) casually revealing that she definitely has breast cancer. There is neighbor/surrogate son Denny (Josh Hutcherson) being confronted by the intimidating drug dealer Chris-R (Zac Efron). If you don't know The Room, you might find such scenes ludicrous and preposterous. But you should definitely get acquainted with The Room beforehand, first in the comfort of your home and later at one of those rowdy screenings that regularly crop up.

Eccentric, untrained first-time filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) drives everybody crazy on the set of "The Room."

Franco is absolutely making fun of Wiseau with his weird speech, otherworldly mannerisms, filmic ignorance, and flagrant lack of taste. But as in Johnny Depp's Ed Wood, there is also some sympathy in this portrayal of a man determined to see his vision through, no matter how dubious that vision may be. Though much of this focuses on the film's making,
the narrative also follows through on how it impacts Wiseau and Sestero's friendship. Sestero begins dating a bartender (Alison Brie), something Wiseau perceives as a threat and when Sestero wants to move out of Wiseau's bachelor pad and move in with his girlfriend, Wiseau views it as a betrayal. He strikes back, refusing to let him keep his beard so he can play a lumberjack on a "Malcolm in the Middle" episode.

The Disaster Artist is very funny, particularly if you know just how closely Franco models his performance on the real, eccentric Wiseau. The troubles it depicts are well-documented and not widely exaggerated for comic effect. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the duo behind (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and The Fault in Our Stars, the screenplay does not lean too heavily on Wiseau embodying the American dream or even on real experiences with football and betrayal factoring into The Room's narrative.

If you're coming into this movie knowing all about The Room and its absurd production, you may not be blown away. The Disaster Artist lacks some of the heart and intrigue that feature in the real Sestero's memoir. If you're coming in knowing nothing about The Room, you may be confused or feel like you're on the outside on a big inside joke. The sweet spot may be knowing a little about The Room and being open to learning more. Hollywood likes to hold a mirror up to itself and celebrate its achievements. In this case, though, the film is looking at a Hollywood outsider who wanted desperately to break into Hollywood and who succeeded by failing in a dramatic fashion. Perhaps this will strike some as mean-spirited, as seasoned actors make fun of the nobodies who made The Room such magnetic trainwreck. But it undoubtedly will function to extend the legend of The Room and make it known to those who haven't already discovered it over the past fourteen years. It also manages to legitimize Franco as a director, which his torturous, little-seen filmings of Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy certainly did not.

Though produced by Warner Bros. Pictures' New Line Cinema imprint, The Disaster Artist is being distributed by A24, a young studio that has quickly established themselves as a prestige label. Having handled last year's Best Picture upsetter Moonlight, A24 may rightly be perceived as a force to reckon with in the awards game. Disaster Artist is the third film they're releasing this fall with major awards hopes, following Lady Bird and The Florida Project. Those two are safer bets for accolades everywhere. But Disaster has already picked up some Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor nods this week and that should continue, in addition to contending in a number of categories at the Golden Globes where it will face lighter competition under the Comedy or Musical designation.

Disaster could also stand to become a commercial success, depending on how hard and wide the studio pushes it. To date, only seven of the studio's more than fifty releases have cracked eight figures at the domestic box office and only with much effort and/or major awards buzz. Starting small and expanding, Disaster Artist could join those ranks.

You'll want to stay to the end of the end credits if you want to see Wiseau's cameo in a strange rooftop party exchange that clearly didn't fit in the body of the movie.

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Dave Franco: Nerve 21 Jump Street Now You See Me Now You See Me 2 Warm Bodies
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Reviewed December 1, 2017.



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