December 07, 2017

The Disaster Artist

Would you like to see my Greek theater masks?

Grade: C +
Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, and Ari Graynor
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

The Room is an awful movie. Not in a so-bad-it’s-good way. More like so-bad-you-can’t-believe-it-got-made. It’s regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, which as these things go also positions it as an enduring cult film, the kind where inebriated audiences gather at midnight cinemas to hoot as the screen and throw things around the theater.

All of that is more fun than The Disaster Artist, a loving yet slight retrospective on The Room and the relationship between its gonzo, long-haired creator, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco, who also directs), and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), The Room’s co-star and Wiseau’s friend and housemate. They meet in July 1998 while living San Francisco, bound by a love for movies, particularly James Dean. They decide to strike out for Los Angeles to pursue their acting dreams. While Sestero finds irregular work in commercials, Wiseau is a train wreck, his overwrought emoting further hamstrung by an indefinite accent that sounds like a combination of Borat and Gru from Despicable Me.

There’s heady mirth in witnessing how Wiseau made The Room. It’s a disaster shoot, for sure, but one fortified by seeing an absolute novice manage to assemble the elements of a movie production, including the maddening yet impressive choice to shoot the entire movie in 35mm film and high-definition video using an apparatus that housed both cameras side-by-side and required two crews to operate. If anything, Wiseau’s incompetence illuminates the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. Wiseau fritters away his seemingly endless resources, insists on playing the lead role even though he can’t remember his lines, and generally abuses his crew—there’s a rather ill-timed sequence during which he insists on filming a love scene while nearly nude to the demonstrable discomfort of his powerless female lead actress (Ari Graynor). Wiseau’s caustic approach only worsens once Sestero moves out and in with his new girlfriend (Alison Brie). As hapless script supervisor Sandy Schklair, Seth Rogen serves the function of the Greek chorus, echoing and affirming the audience’s bemusement.

Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is another hagiography about a notoriously bad filmmaker, but Burton delved beneath inanity and explicated the motives and make-up of the man (along with those of his latter-day muse, Bela Lugosi). The Disaster Artist, adapted from Sestero’s 2013 memoir of acting in The Room, accomplishes no such feat. No one knows Wiseau’s age, where he originally hails, or the source of his unusually sizable wealth. They’re mysteries The Disaster Artist tout like badges of honor at film’s end, trying to capitalize on its protagonist’s enigma. Unfortunately, that lack of enlightenment merely reinforces a quasi-biopic shrouded in its secrets, never bothering to dig below the accents and eccentricities. Instead, Franco extends Wiseau redemption in real time culminating with The Room’s 2003 premiere, where Wiseau and his film are granted instant cult status from the audience instead of the ghastly greeting it actually received.

Prior to the closing credits, Franco’s inserts a reel of side-by-side comparisons between memorable scenes from The Room and Franco’s reenactments made for The Disaster Artist. The facsimiles are exact but superficial. They, like Franco’s performance and his film a whole, are exercises in affectionate mimicry.