The Disaster Artist (2017) – Film Review

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Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Certificate: 15

by Roger Crow

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than films about itself, it’s movies about romance. The town is filled with bruised romantics either smarting from a costly divorce or in the honeymoon phase of a new romance. And when a film is made about a cult movie with a bromance attached, it touches a chord with every aspiring writer/producer/star who tried and failed to get a film off the ground.

In short: the underdog.

I’ve never seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 project regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Considering a passion for cult flicks, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a blip on my radar until a few years ago when it started getting repeat screenings in Hull.

The Disaster Artist, produced, directed by and starring James Franco (as Wiseau), is inspired by said film, and proof that success can be crafted from failure. Penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, it’s based on Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s 2013 book which examines the making of Wiseau’s vanity project, a tale of love, friendship, and rejection. Had it been made for a few thousand dollars, you can understand if it suffered from a lack of quality. The Room cost a reported $6million, largely due to a huge deficit of directorial common sense.

It helps that Wiseau is such a mystery figure. Nobody knows where he’s from, how old he is or the source of his vast wealth, and while cash might buy movie cameras, it doesn’t buy the respect he craves.

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“A baffling enigma”

It opens in San Francisco, 1998, where 19-year-old Greg Sestero (Dave Franco – a Matt Damon/Team America doppelgänger) meets Tommy Wiseau in acting classes. Though Tommy’s eccentric performance of a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire leaves the acting coach (played by Melanie Griffith) non-plussed, Greg is inspired and the two become friends, and move to Los Angeles (where Tommy has an apartment he barely uses!) to pursue acting careers.

Though Greg lands an agent (Sharon Stone, in a cameo), Tommy’s barely coherent speech patterns and inability to take direction mean he’s less successful. However, his assorted rejections do lead to a eureka moment when his mate suggests they make a film.

This “Let’s do the show right here,” scene is the staple for countless movies, and could have been a cliche, but James Franco plays it straight. Easy enough when making a film about such an extraordinary character prone to random outbursts.

Wiseau’s script for The Room proves a baffling enigma, but as long as the cast and crew are getting paid, they go along with it.

Of course it raises key questions. If Wiseau has all this cash, why didn’t he make the movie from the word go? His answer is because he never had a friend to make it with before. And for the actors working on such a weird film, why do they put themselves through it with such a tyrannical director?

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“Hilarious and touching”

The answer comes with a scene which touches a chord with anyone who’s ever loved making, starring in or reporting on films – a killer line from actress Carolyn Minnott (Jacki Weaver): “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day doing anything else.”

Sadly for the film’s production, Greg’s romance with nightclub worker Amber (the excellent Alison Brie) leads to Tommy’s jealousy; his one friend has been snatched away, so he throws his toys out of the pram and behaves like a monster on set. It’s both hilarious and touching.

Like Tim Burton’s luminous biopic of Ed Wood, the maker of some of the worst films ever made, The Disaster Artist may focus on a bad movie, but for those who’ve had a friendship ruined through ego, or a dream of getting their vision on screen, it’s a huge success.

Not sure we needed the side-by-side comparisons between the original movie and TDA’s recreations, but that’s Hollywood for you. Like a cinematic narcissus in a hall of mirrors, it’s fascinated by an endless reflection of itself, especially the facets which are less clear than others.


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