"The Disaster Artist is worthy of some 'hi marks'
By: Steve Pulaski
Tommy Wiseau's famous disasterpiece The Room came to my attention about seven years ago. A kid in my high school television class would constantly quote it and try to suppress (or intensify) occasionally awkward situations he himself would routinely inspire by reciting the famous lines, "Oh hi, Mark" and "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" from the film. When I finally watched a short-time later, I wasn't very amused. It was inept filmmaking at its finest, but it became inescapable to the point where I would hear it being spoken about in many conversations about film I had with people.
To date, including my viewing yesterday for what I dubiously call "research purposes," I've seen it four times, twice on my own, once with a couple friends, and once with commentary by the Rifftrax gang in a nearly sold-out auditorium, which I still stand by is the best way to see this film (unless you can seek out a midnight showing). It's not an exciting film, and in fact, I find it gets a bit harder to sit through each time because it's so lethargically paced and repetitive. What's captivated people for years since the film's release has obviously been the mystery of it its creator.
The Disaster Artist, the film adaptation of actor Greg Sestero's autobiographical account of working with Wiseau on The Room, falls short of transcending Wiseau's prolifically lampooned, caricatured status. You're almost guaranteed to emerge from the film as clueless about Wiseau as a person as you were when you entered. Neither the leading brothers, James and Dave Franco, nor the film's respective screenwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, tear down the mystery behind the driving force that made The Room as well as its cult-status possible. This is disappointing, but not a crushing blow to a film that still finds ways to be wildly entertaining and endlessly watchable.
The film opens in San Francisco in 1998, where 19-year-old Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is nervously fumbling through acting classes, petrified of being judged by others. His own misgivings are challenged when he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a mysterious man who doesn't disclose his nationality nor age, when he makes a splash on-stage with fearless, if misdirected, energy. The two become fast-friends mainly because Greg is mesmerized by Tommy's ability to disregard the opinions and questions of others in an effort to persist on to become a "real Hollywood actor," something Greg is far too scared to embrace before being moved by Tommy's style.
In an effort to make their acting dreams a reality, the two pack up and move to Los Angeles. Greg stays at one of Tommy's lofts, for Tommy has copious amounts of money (for reasons we never find out), and the two scour modeling and talent agencies across the big city in hopes to land film or TV gigs. If anything, Greg's serviceable acting abilities are handicapped by Tommy, who, on top of having no people skills, is an albatross in the form of a loud, unpredictable neanderthal that embarrasses himself on a regular basis. When rejection nearly gets the best of them, their passions are reinvigorated after Greg suggests they make their own film. The Room is then born by way of a screenplay, subsequent auditions, and an incompetent production that runs days behind schedule.
The Disaster Artist is littered with cameos and performances from recognizable faces, perhaps the most notable soul being Seth Rogen as Sandy Schklair, the script-supervisor-turned-self-appointed director of The Room when Tommy's focus became more about his acting. Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron make appearances as "Denny" and "Chris-R," respectively, odd side-characters in Wiseau's film, and brief appearances by Judd Apatow, Sharon Stone, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse turn up, as well as various others to an extent where you'll already be planning a second viewing when reading through the end-credits. While the biographical aspects, such as the behind-the-scenes relationships between cast-members and the private dialogs between Tommy and Greg give light to the kind of atmosphere of working on such a strange film, it's a delight to see the sets of The Room reconstructed for the Francos' to utilize. The timing and accuracy of the sequences taken directly from Wiseau's film suggest that, in addition to adapting Sestero's novel, the crew went a step further to make a shot-for-shot remake of The Room either for future release or their own private viewing pleasure. It's an idea that will surely yet rightfully prompt a plethora of conspiracy theories because the extent the production designers went to recreate the sets (as shown during the closing credits) is so painstakingly detailed it almost needed to serve an additional purpose.
The scenes where we are watching Tommy's dreadful acting and frequent fumbling of lines to the point where sixty separate takes are in order would be mercilessly contrived if it wasn't for the great ability of the Franco brothers to bring so much joy and energy to the table. James Franco is a terrific Tommy Wiseau, enigmatic and increasingly manipulative as the production lumbers forward. Dave Franco, on the other-hand, brings a more likable, boyish charm to Greg that contrasts the thick-headed dictatorship Tommy brings to the production of his film and his relationships with others, even his best-friend. The two are costumed so effectively, with James so well-hidden under long black-hair and an ambiguous accent of inflections, that you for stretches you forget you're watching two brothers put on a show.
Above all the cheapshots at Tommy the Francos and the screenwriters take over the course of 100 minutes, there's an obvious respect for both Wiseau's creation and Sestero's articulation of events on behalf of everyone involved. Franco's portrayal of Tommy Wiseau could reasonably be considered a lighter, less abrasive version of Jim Carrey's embodiment of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (shown to a greater extent in the new documentary Jim & Andy). It's this tender and present affection the core group of individuals harbor for Wiseau and The Room itself that steerThe Disaster Artist away from mocking and mean-spirited to more amusingly comic with method tendencies. With that in mind, I'm not sure you could enjoy this having not seen The Room at least once on top of digging more into its existence.
The Franco brothers are two of the most intriguing mainstream talents today. While Dave has made himself quite the presence in various comedies and thrillers, James has forged a career-path that involves a raunchy comedy one day, a film adaptation of William Faulkner's classic another, and something absurdly satisfying like this to top it all off. There's an ambition element with the Franco brothers that revolves around "doing it" and crossing off the wildest goals on your bucket-list that ultimately spawns connective tissue with the craziness of Wiseau and his debut. The Disaster Artist may not dive into the person, but it illustrates the passion, as misguided as it is, and a friendship so powerful it can transcend into commitment to some of the lousiest filmmaking possible.