“The Disaster Artist” Review: Oh hai James Franco…and all his friends…

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Directed by James Franco

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen and Allison Brie

If you were to ask me what my all-time favorite movie going experience was it wouldn’t be the first time I saw Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star during the re-release of “Star Wars” during the 90s. No, it wouldn’t be when I watched Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the men of Rohan mount a daring defense of Helms Deep in “The Two Towers.” Hell, it wouldn’t even be seeing Heath Ledger and his iconic performance as the Joker the first time in “The Dark Knight.”

No, it was a midnight screening in San Jose with a few beers in my system watching the infamous cult classic “The Room” at my college’s local indie theater with a bunch of other rowdy fans. “The Room” is more than just simply watching a movie, when you go out to see it at these events, it’s a total audience participation unlike any major film of the past few decades that defies logic and comprehension.

Much like another cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Room” has garnered a huge legion of fans that partake in midnight screenings around the world every month maintaining its legitimacy far beyond many of the “Best Picture” films that Oscars have touted for the last century. In a strange way it’s a more a classic and relevant than any of those films ever will be because of its notoriety.

(The applause this line gets every time at the midnight screenings I’ve gone to is louder than any Oscar nominated movie I’ve seen in my lifetime.)

And why is that? Because it’s beyond absurd, it’s so bad that the melodrama collapses in on itself like a dying star and you can’t help but watch as the destruction unfolds on the screen. It’s one of the greatest pieces of unintentional brilliance and humor in film-making ever, like a real life “Springtime for Hitler,” and in a crazy way director, writer, producer and actor Tommy Wiseau’s legacy will last long after many other “better” movies succumb to the sands of time.

That’s the story that the book “The Disaster Artist” tells, written by friend of Wiseau and co-star of “The Room” Greg Sestero. It depicts what it’s like to struggle as an aspiring artist and the crippling depression that comes with trying to be relevant in a world as unrelenting and unforgiving as Hollywood. Greg was an aspiring actor but he was also extremely self-conscious, like most of us would, and in Tommy he saw an untalented but nevertheless fearless individual who kept reaching for his acting dreams despite the whole world basically telling him “NO! GOD DAMN IT! NO!” and that made him strangely admirable. 

Despite the fact that Wiseau’s film is ultimately a blasphemy to filmmaking and storytelling everywhere, he somehow failed so hard that he succeeded and in a weird way he should be lauded for that considering the Universe was completely against it.

(To be fair, Tommy is oblivious to all forms of outside ummm…things.)

James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” however, which he ironically also directs, produces and stars in, will likely not stand the test of time and ultimately falls short of the book’s larger message, choosing to pay fan service rather than homage to the cult classic. It hits the right notes at times though and “Room” fans unfamiliar with the book will likely get a kick out of it but in the end it just isn’t as deep as its original source material.

“The Disaster Artist,” just like the book, tells the story of “Room” actor Greg Sestero and how he met Tommy Wiseau and the strange friendship that developed from there. Sestero is a struggling actor trying to find his place in show business while Wiseau flounders his way through his own auditions with his crippling lack of talent. One day, Wiseau decides he won’t wait for the big shots in Hollywood anymore and decides he’ll write, direct and star in his own feature titled “The Room.” As production gets underway however, Greg and Tommy’s relationship begins to fray as the film and those involved with it spiral out of control.

Let me first state that this film was likely never going to completely satisfy me.

“The Disaster Artist” is my favorite book of all-time, no joke, and one of the only stories I’ve read more than once. There’s so much relatable content in it that I think anyone who has ever felt small, or like their work or their relevance doesn’t matter could relate to and it details such an amazing and hilarious account of the production behind the scenes of this awful movie. I remember the first thing I thought upon finishing it was “Wow, this could be a great movie if done right” then literally a couple weeks later James Franco announced he was directing and starring in “The Disaster Artist” film adaptation before I could even start typing up a screenplay.

(Me upon hearing Franco beat me to it.)

So with that in mind, I went into this movie with middling expectations and for what it’s worth the movie does a mostly decent job of capturing the humor and most of the message of the book.

Despite James Franco not being my first, second or third choice for director/actor of this adaptation, he does a good job of going full method one as Tommy Wiseau and if there’s any character in history that needs to be portrayed with full cheese and melodrama it’s Tommy Wiseau. Franco delivers on much of the funnier bits of the story, chewing and destroying the scenery around him at times and plays off his younger brother Dave (playing Greg Sestero fairly well) fairly well.

Seth Rogen lends his comedic chops to the film as “The Room’s” script supervisor Sandy playing more or less himself but to be fair Sandy in the book is kind of a smart ass like Seth anyways. The film has a variety of cameos that are amusing and work fine within the story and the film does capture the funnier moments portrayed in the book describing the often headache inducing production behind the cult classic. Much of the film’s better moments take place on the set of “The Room” and this is where the book to film adaptation works best.

(Accurately describes what production was like on “The Room.”)

The film fails though in trying to detail the deeper levels of the story that take place outside “The Room” however and the result is a film that pays more fan service with “ooo I remember that scene” then actually detailing what happened and who Greg and Tommy are (or at least as best as we know about Tommy).

I hate to do the “but in the book” routine with this movie but there’s critical moments detailing Tommy and Greg’s relationship that just aren’t there in this movie. In the book (sigh), Tommy is more layered and his relationship with Greg gets strained beyond just the film’s crazy production but his own domineering and often jealous behavior causing friction between the two. He goes from talentless, admirable loser to talentless controlling loser in the span of a few chapters and in this film this strain is only portrayed through the idea that Greg just outgrows him.

The struggles of making it in Hollywood is what makes this relationship truly fascinating though as the book tells of Greg’s larger talents going unnoticed while Tommy’s lack of anything still swings for the fences despite seemingly all of Hollywood telling him no. The film really doesn’t go that far into this and the movie’s drama suffers for it.

The movie spends more time shoehorning in cameos of James’ famous friends than detailing this critical part of the drama in the book. The story behind “The Room” is more than just laughs at the film’s incomprehensible production but of Greg and Tommy’s relationship bouncing all over the place and this movie opts for the former more often than the latter.

(How I imagine James’ friends reacting upon hearing they were making a movie together, whether they were right for the role or not.)

Dave Franco also doesn’t do much as this film’s lead. Though better than expected as Greg, Dave is distracting in this role. The film at times feels like a party where James Franco invited all his friends to come make a movie with him rather than tell an actual story and it still somehow works despite this but having his brother play the main character alongside him is just a little too much. 

Dave Franco’s obviously fake beard in the second act doesn’t help, nor the fact that he doesn’t look that much like Greg to begin with, but he’s just a little too obviously Dave Franco, if that makes any sense. He doesn’t become Greg in the same way James mostly becomes Tommy and the result makes his portrayal a bit forced at times. If anything James may have been a better Greg and a much older actor could’ve played Tommy but that’s neither here nor there.

(Me dealing with the film’s shortcomings after a while though.)

With this all said “The Disaster Artist” is still a decent watch at the theaters. The film has more than a few good laughs and James Franco’s portrayal of the baffling weirdo that is Tommy Wiseau is enjoyable enough for the price of admission.

The film spends more time telling jokes than a story and caters to the base level of “Room” fan needs but it’s still funny at least and better than most comedies you’ll catch at the theaters these days. It’s sad though that the larger, deeper parts of the books story weren’t completely portrayed here and while the film’s main message of reaching for your dreams isn’t lost on the audience the greater depths of that struggle isn’t properly portrayed here.

Maybe someday this book will be more properly adapted but until then Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” is an enjoyable but imperfect homage to the greatest worst film ever made.

But anyways how’s your sex life?


3.5 out of 5

Now looks what’s coming up though…

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