“The Disaster Artist” Movie Review


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     The comedy genre has proven to be a tough one for filmmakers to tackle over the past several years. Gone are the 1990s when several talented filmmakers, such as the Farrelly Brothers and a young Adam Sandler, gave birth to the R-rated gross out comedy in which sight gags became sort of a film to film competition with a cinematic version of “Can you top this?”.  Eventually, others caught on, and the market became stuffed nearly every weekend with a major comedy star’s latest attempt at giving audiences the gut busting laughs they thought they craved.  For every “Dumb & Dumber”, “There’s Something About Mary”, or “American Pie”, there were duds like “The Hangover 3”, “That’s My Boy”, and “Dumb and Dumber To”.  With so many studios going the way of trying to replicate others success, you’d think someone would step up and point out why those successes occurred in the first place.  That of course being, they were original.  To that point, we hadn’t ever seen anything like them.

     If James Franco didn't get it before, it’s clear he does now, given both his chops as a director and his lead performance in the hilarious “The Disaster Artist”, a film that recounts the making of 2003’s “The Room”, which is widely considered to be the worst movie ever made.  If you’re unaware of the story behind this (most people are since we all would naturally ignore something being so universally panned), “The Room” was a passion project produced, directed, written by, and starring Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious person of unknown origins who came to Los Angeles in the late 90s to pursue acting with a massive fortune at his disposal.  To put it lightly, Wiseau is an interesting individual, unlike anything we have every seen on screen.  And bringing him to life in a Hollywood based true story is nothing short of genius on the part of Franco, who works from a screenplay written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber that is based on Greg Sestero’s memoir “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”.

     Sestero is the other piece to the puzzle.  An acting hopeful himself, he meets Wiseau at a San Francisco acting class in 1998.  Wiseau and Sestero become friends, eventually leading to the two of them moving to Los Angeles on Wiseau’s dime in order to pursue their dreams of someday acting in feature films and television shows.  In “The Disaster Artist”, James Franco portrays Wiseau, while Dave Franco plays Sestero in what is the first time the two brothers have acted opposite one another in a film.  It’s a great pairing and one with obvious chemistry, which is a key ingredient leading to an incredible array of comic gold from beginning to end.  James’ performance in particular is one of the funniest turns I can think of in a really long time, coming off as even more original than Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers” or Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley.  Sure, guys like Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart illicit a laugh or two in the films they often appear in, but they, along with nearly every regular comedic actor, are playing the same guy every time.  See “The Disaster Artist” and then try to compare James Franco’s performance to something else he has done.  You won’t think of anything, and that’s because in addition to unearthing a guy whose only film has been relegated to cult like midnight screenings and bringing him out in the open for the world to see, the character also allows James Franco to literally reinvent himself.  

     The storyline of “The Disaster Artist” chronicles the making of “The Room” by a fledgling filmmaker who doesn't know how to make movies.  Wiseau does; however, have deep pockets and is more than capable of financing the entire project, but when you see how frivolous he is with various unnecessary expenditures, you’ll wonder how he made his fortune in the first place.  When both he and Sestero’s attempts at breaking into the Hollywood mainstream fail miserably, Wiseau decides to write a script based on his life and produce the film himself.  Sestero is more than happy to participate, which encourages Wiseau to cast him as Mark, who is the story’s antagonist in the would be love triangle tale concocted within this very interesting man’s mind.  But all doesn't go smoothly during production with Wiseau committing one gaff another.  Prior to shooting, he buys, instead of renting, multiple production cameras and the accompanying equipment, famously choosing to film in both digital HD and standard definition for no apparent reason.  The company he buys the equipment from provides a small crew and studio, but Wiseau is intent on directing the film himself and with his inexperience, clashes constantly with the actors and crew members who realize quickly this is not the usual film set.  The middle act is comprised mostly of the arduous shoot, creating a number of moments you won’t believe actually happened unless you watch “The Room” before see this film.

     Because of the unique personality, mannerisms, and delivery possessed by the real Tommy Wiseau, the performance by James Franco could easily have gone the route of total parody, stripping away the fact this is indeed a real person and playing the character solely for laughs.  But that’s not how he ends up going about it.  Instead, he realizes playing Wiseau with a sense of realism will still garner the laughs, but will also keep the character from becoming cartoonish or unintentionally larger than life.  James doesn't indulge by going over the top because it’s not necessary.  The character sells himself as is and the depiction of the various onset calamities play out as they happened, not for laughs, but for the purpose of documenting the methods Wiseau employed to realize his vision on screen.  That alone is hilarious.  The guy is just funny and the story seems to crazy to be true, but it is!

     Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero is the perfect compliment to such an outlandish personality.  And the supporting players who back up the duo provide plenty of straight faced back and forth banter which supports the saying that you simply can’t make this stuff up.  Seth Rogan’s script supervisor Sandy is priceless at times with his under the breath comments in reference to Wiseau’s antics, as is Ari Graynor’s portrayal of Juliette Danielle who plays Lisa, the love interest of both Wiseau and Sestero’s characters in the actual film.  Smaller roles played by Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron are also given several memorable moments.  But this is James Franco’s film, and his performance is far and away the best of the year.  I’ve never seen anything like it. In telling Wiseau’s unique story, he has created a new standard for original comedy films.  One I’m sure will be imitated soon.  GRADE: A