Welcome to Tommy Planet: A Review of “The Disaster Artist”

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Over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2003, an indie film called The Room made an almost nonexistent splash when it screened at only two theaters in the heart of Los Angeles, returning a mere $1,800 on an apparent $6 million budget. The film should have likely disappeared from the annals of pop culture altogether, but The Room is one of those so-bad-it’s-good kind of movies — one commonly (and deservedly) referred to as “the greatest worst movie of all time.” Its destiny would be to soon become a beloved cult-classic of larger-than-life proportions, with many of its biggest proprietors among Hollywood’s most well-known stars — one of which is James Franco, whose latest endeavor is based on the film’s ludicrous production.

Directly inspired by a 2013 novel of the same name and written by The Room co-star Greg Sestero, James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is Ed Wood for the millennial generation. Like the infamous film it is based on, James Franco directs, produces, and stars in The Disaster Artist, and is unbelievably brilliant in his portrayal of the film’s notorious creator, Tommy Wiseau. Franco absolutely nails every aspect of the man from his accent to his mannerisms — almost to the point that it seems he was quite obsessed with Wiseau. His co-stars are similarly wonderful, with his A-list friends and frequent collaborators making up many of the supporting roles (including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, and Josh Hutcherson).

While Tommy Wiseau is the main focal point of The Disaster Artist, the film is in fact just as much about the relationship he had with Sestero (Dave Franco) over a five-year period. The film opens in 1998 in a local theatre in San Francisco, with a nervous, 19-year-old Sestero disastrously performing in an acting class. He’s followed by an equally awful older gentleman, whose nonsensical but confident performance strikes a chord with the impressionable Sestero. This is, of course, the formidable Tommy Wiseau, and the two form a curious friendship over the next few years as they pursue their shared dreams of becoming movie stars. They begin by auditioning for parts all around Los Angeles, but following each of their failed attempts, Wiseau ultimately gets the idea to create his own movie.

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The thing about The Room is that it was developed in earnest by a man who, it seems, had never seen a single movie before, but instead was probably once told secondhand the synopsis of A Streetcar Named Desire. From that little knowledge, Wiseau tried his best but failed miserably at taking what he had learned in order to write his own profound drama, the results of which gave us one of the most unintentionally hilarious B-films ever made.

The man’s very own influence when writing The Room was the Tennessee Williams classic I mentioned above, but his film is nothing like his treasured inspiration. Featuring a convoluted premise, an atrocious script, and arduous acting ability from all involved, The Room is truly something that needs to be seen to be believed. And while it may seem that I’m absolutely bashing the original film, it is actually the combination of all these aspects that gave The Room the revered cult status it enjoys today. Being a film bearing so much lore (like the mysteriousness of Wiseau himself), it’s only natural that the making-of process was as much a work of drama as the original film was proposed to be.

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Franco’s adaptation is a superb comical look at the behind-the-scenes mayhem that transpired during the film’s prolonged production. But more than that, it’s also a poignant examination of the inexplicably, almost-mythological enigma that was and still is Tommy Wiseau (to this day, no one knows where he was born, how old he is, or where his seemingly never ending funds come from). While I was almost constantly laughing throughout at the absurdity of this “True Story,” I was also amazed at how genuinely affecting its portrayal of Wiseau was. As his relationship with Sestero slowly degrades over time, it is legitimately heartbreaking to watch. And the climax of The Disaster Artist, which portrays The Room‘s first official public screening and Wiseau’s experience of this moment in particular, is among 2017’s greatest and most memorable sequences for me.

Franco has successfully taken a notoriously bad film and created from it something that is in fact Oscar-worthy and among the best movies of the year, as well as perhaps the funniest film he’s even been a part of. However, I’m unsure just how much of my enjoyment stems from my long-standing history with the original film, and I’m curious as to how this adaptation would play to someone with no prior experience with The Room. So, my wholehearted recommendation is this: Watch Wiseau’s magnum opus before going into The Disaster Artist. Hell, make an evening of it and do a double-feature of both alongside a group of your closest friends. You’ll thank me, and Tommy, later.

4.5 stars out of 5

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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