A Bad Movie Makes Good In 'The Disaster Artist'
By Andrea Thompson
People are truly odd creatures. We demand conformity, but we also have a soft spot for weirdos. We love to see people achieve their dreams, but we also relish a fall from grace. We revere creators, but we are also quick to tear apart their creations if we perceive them to be too flawed. However, there's a caveat to this very basic human trait in that we are also suckers for sincerity. So even if a piece of art is lacking, it can be partially redeemed if it has two things going for it. One, the art has to still be enjoyable. Two, the person who made it has to have that earnestness that we all find so charming.
Perhaps that is why “The Room” is so adored. It is not just bad, it is so spectacularly, laughably awful that even a feminist like myself can't even be offended by its rampant misogyny. The spoons, the story about breast cancer that goes nowhere, the footballs, the tuxedos, the weird dialogue, the sex scenes that burn their way into you like a dark abyss you will never be able to unsee, and the weirdest customer transaction ever. Just how did such a thing come to be? “The Disaster Artist” tries to answer that question.
Based on the tell-all memoir of Greg Sestero himself, who played Mark in the cult phenomenon, “The Disaster Artist” follows Sestero when he's just another aspiring actor struggling to achieve his dreams. But he's held back by stage fright of all things, too fearful of what the audience will think of him to really put himself out there and thus achieve the greatness he craves. Then in his acting class, he meets another aspiring actor named Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) who gives a truly strange performance that he is instantly drawn to for its fearlessness.
Greg isn't put off by Wiseau's weirdness, and Wiseau finds in Greg both an inspiration and a friend who provides a respite from his isolation and loneliness. Soon the two are journeying to Hollywood together with high hopes, financed by Wiseau's surprisingly deep pockets. But their dreams of stardom are predictably difficult to realize. When Greg offhandedly wishes they could make their own movie, Wiseau decides to run with that idea. Let the insanity begin!
And it does. It truly does. Franco gives one of the most skillfuly hilarious performances ever as he brings out all of Wiseau's weirdness, which not only includes what so many of us have witnessed while watching his cult masterpiece, but everything we didn't see on-set. Greg quickly discovers how much he doesn't know about his friend, and not just because his age, country of origin, and source of income remain a mystery. Wiseau quickly reveals himself to be cruel and controlling when people don't conform exactly to his baffling tastes and desires, which all seem to involve ignoring every time-tested rule of filmmaking.
So why does the cast stick around and tolerate it? Clearly, no one expected “The Room” to become the phenomenon that it did. Some did it for the money, but most clearly love what they do. They know they'll never be household names, or even able to make a living from their craft, but a movie set is still where they want to be above all else. “The Disaster Artist” is really a tribue to these kinds of dreamers, who may never see their greatest hopes fulfilled, but choose to keep following their passion anyway. But as we've seen over and over again, following your dreams rarely comes without a price. And Wiseau's devotion and demands stretches his and Greg's friendship to the point where Greg finally breaks and can take no more.
It's a tragicomic portrait of a bromance that helped bring to life a movie that never should've existed, let alone found an audience. This is the first time the Franco brothers have acted together on-screen, and “The Disaster Artist” uses their relationship to its fullest potential, bolstered by supporting turns from the comedic chemistry Seth Rogen reliably brings whenever he joins forces with the older Franco, as well as Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, and numerous cameos from major Hollywood players, who either play versions of themselves, or speak about what “The Room” has meant to them. Plus, it's nice to be reminded that James Franco can be intentionally funny.
Franco also directs, bringing an additional sense of meta to a film that so deftly balances great acting, writing, emotion, and hilarity. That's not to say there aren't a few drawbacks, some of which we've seen time and again. When Franco and his group gets together, the women are somewhat neglected, with Alison Brie's girlfriend role especially not giving her much of an opportunity to use her considerable talents. But it's hard to hold this against “The Disaster Artist” when there's just so much affection for the movie it's ridiculing. It not only lovingly recreates so many of its trademark scenes, it is full of compassion for those who will never fit in. Ultimately, “The Disaster Artist” argues that there's room for all us, even if achieving that elusive dream of fame never turns out the way we think it will.