Published on December 8th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
The Disaster Artist
James Franco pulls Tommy Wiseau and the lore of The Room into the spotlight with one of his best works to date, The Disaster Artist.
Bad movies are more common than quality ones, even during a cinematically strong year. But behind every hit or misfire is a collective pool of the blood, sweat, and tears of hundreds of individuals. The new film The Disaster Artist doesn’t offer any profound explanation as to why The Room, arguably one of the worst movies ever made, went so wrong. But it does depict, almost as a dramatic recreation, the real life misguided decisions that stem from the one-man-wrecking machine that is Tommy Wiseau, a modern day Ed Wood if there was one.
It’s 1998 when aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets the unexplainable and unexpected Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) at an acting class in San Francisco. Tommy performs without fear or judgement but he’s incapable of hitting a single sincere note. His outward brashness captivates Greg and the two soon become partners in a shared dream of stardom. They pack their things and make it to Hollywood, where acceptance remains elusive from their grasp. Tommy then decides that if no one wants the duo in their movie, they’ll make their own. He writes a script called The Room and pulls millions out of his mysterious pockets to get it financed. Tommy and Greg soon find themselves with an opportunity of their own making.
Once they arrive on set and the crew is gathered it becomes very obvious very fast that Tommy has no clue what he’s doing. But he’s too stubborn and proud to ask for help, accept help, or even entertain anyone else’s ideas or suggestions. The film’s script supervisor (Seth Rogen) is beside himself with the lack of attention and continuity in Tommy’s demands, and other crew members find themselves immediately disenfranchised with a leader they can’t rely on. It’s no spoiler to reveal that the film eventually gets made and seen by an audience, but the path to get there was hellish for everyone behind the scenes.
Ultimately, The Disaster Artist is not about the struggles of being a filmmaker. Tommy has a bottomless pit of money which eventually finances the $6 million production. 99% of filmmakers don’t have this luxury, and the real “struggling artists” do not have it nearly as easy as the subjects of The Disaster Artist. Tommy and Greg’s struggle is making something of quality while pushing the boulder of Tommy’s ego up a steep fucking hill. Tommy’s drive to make something is endearing enough – we can all relate to the feeling of being the only person to believe in yourself. But his lack of empathy and sympathy for his fellow humans makes him less than respectable. There’s a tricky balance between loving and hating the man that James Franco nails down in his performance and through his direction.
It’s absolutely true that you can learn just as much – if not more – by watching a bad movie than a good one. What The Disaster Artist surmises is that incompetency only plays a small part in any big or small screen catastrophe. It’s the handling of multiple personalities, emotions, and egos that can just as easily derail a project. Tommy Wiseau isn’t a horrible filmmaker because he lacks talent (though he does), he’s horrible because he’s incapable of collaborating and listening. No one man makes a movie, you need a whole team of individuals joined together with a common purpose and mindset. When you refuse to let other creatives in, your ego blocks the door for anything good to seep out of it.
It’s baffling why many people look up to Tommy as some sort of a hero. The Room is only watched ironically by folks wanting to be in on some obscure joke. But The Disaster Artist will undoubtedly leave a much more positive legacy. For all the shortcomings that Tommy Wiseau possesses as a creative and as a human being, there’s an undeniable spark within him that captivates you. And as a behind-the-curtain look at the other side of movie making, it’s often quite honest and sincere.
As an actor, this is James Franco’s finest work to date. He not only captures the real Wiseau’s strange accent (it’s never revealed where he’s actually from, or how old he is, or how come he has so much disposable cash), he also finds the deranged method in his off-kilter madness. From a directorial standpoint the film moves at a brisk pace and successfully inserts the audience as a fly on the walls of a confusing, madcap set. Tommy may not know a single thing about how to handle drama but Franco sure does.
The Disaster Artist is stacked with a plethora of famous faces in small cameos. It’s at once a delight and a distraction to spot all the funny people but none of them get to embody any dynamic characters. They perform their functions while acting as little more than environmental factors for Tommy to bounce off of. As Greg, James’ brother Dave does a perfectly fine job as our guide in the oddball universe of Tommy Wiseau. But no one does anything really exceptional – except for James Franco himself.
The biggest sticking point for many potential viewers will be their relationship with The Room itself. Fans of the “best worst movie ever made” will find plenty of winks and nods to enjoy. But speaking as someone who has never seen the film – and, to be honest, has no intention to ever see it – this critic right here still dug the living hell out of The Disaster Artist. It’s relentlessly funny even for the uninitiated and packs a surprising punch of heart when Tommy’s insecurities are revealed beneath his heavy exterior. As a movie about the process of making movies, it’s indispensable viewing for students and lovers of film everywhere.