By Bob Garver
NOTE: This movie is playing on less than 1,000 screens in the country, so it might not yet be in your area. But its popularity is growing, so be on the lookout for it in the coming weeks.
“The Disaster Artist” tells the story of actor and filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a man who overcame adversity to achieve his dream of sharing his gift with the world. That adversity included a poor grasp of the English language, an unsightly appearance, atrocious social skills, a complete lack of knowledge or talent, and an additional layer of insanity. The “gift” that he shared with the world was “The Room,” a 2003 film that has gained cult status as one of the worst movies of all time.
We first meet Tommy in an acting class in San Francisco, along with Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’s brother). Greg stumbles aimlessly through a scene from “Waiting for Gadot,” and the teacher rightly tells him he has no passion. Then Tommy takes the stage, repeatedly screaming something that can eventually be identified as “Stella!” from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Passion is clearly not a problem for Tommy. Coherence is, but not passion. Greg sees a potential for greatness in Tommy, which according to the movie makes him a sort of visionary. My takeaway was that he’s simply a more subtle kind of crazy.
Greg and Tommy strike up a friendship and agree to help with each other’s careers. They move to L.A. together, where they don’t have much luck finding roles; Greg because he’s just another pretty face and Tommy because he’s not at all a pretty face. It dawns on Tommy that if he can’t land the right role, he should just create one. He sets out to make his own movie with Greg as his co-star. He writes a role for himself where he gets to play an all-American everyman even though he’s from… Europe, probably (outer space also wouldn’t surprise me). The movie is “The Room” and it’s going to win the Oscar, as long as long as a nuclear blast takes out everything except the film, The Academy, and the statue.
As far as money, Tommy uses well-studied business savvy to navigate the perilous waters of securing financing and deftly stays within a tight budget. Just kidding, he draws from an immense personal fortune and thinks the solution to every problem is to throw money at it. He hires a cast and crew (played by Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, and Ari Graynor, among others) who are competent enough to scoff at his decisions, but not competent enough to convince him to make better decisions.
We follow Tommy and Greg through the nightmare of a shoot. We see Tommy’s approach to the film’s most infamous moments, like the sex scene, the conversation between the leading lady and her mother, Tommy’s character laughing at a mention of domestic abuse, and possibly the worst-delivered line in movie history. Greg and Tommy predictably have a falling out, and it looks like Greg won’t even go to the film’s premiere. He should have to go, if only to take responsibility for his role in the production. Sure it was Tommy’s project, but Greg gave him encouragement, which I believe is what psychologists refer to as “enabling.”
“The Disaster Artist” does an excellent job of recreating Tommy Wiseau and “The Room,” though perhaps it’s a little too impressed with itself, judging by the self-congratulatory side-by-side comparisons we get at the film’s end. James Franco’s voice sound like a bad Tommy Wiseau impression, which actually makes it a great Wiseau impression. The film never goes too far beyond mere recreation, giving up much too easily on asking why Wiseau and Sestero made such weird decisions. The film ultimately serves as a counterpoint to the classic Hollywood moral of “Believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything!” Tommy Wiseau believed in himself, and he ended making “The Room,” so maybe don’t overreach.
“The Disaster Artist” is rated R for language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Its running time is 104 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at [email protected].