Movie Review – The Disaster Artist
Review by Paul Preston
Movies that are so bad they’re enjoyable to watch are hard to come by. Many are recommended to me, but I often have a miserable time trying to slog through them. I saw a scene from the 1997 action film Double Team in which Dennis Rodman saves himself and Jean-Claude Van Damme from a high fall by engaging a parachute that opens as a basketball all around him. Immediately I thought to myself, “I have to see this whole movie!”.
I was wrong.
Double Team is not full of cheesy moments like that which will make you snicker, it’s awful, beginning to end. Same with Snakes on a Plane. They WORKED to make that so bad that’s it’s good, but it’s just bad (and worse, no fun). I say that to say this. 2003’s The Room is terrible, and also some of the most fun you’ll have in a movie theater in your life. And if you’ve seen The Room at home or online, you have seen the film, but haven’t EXPERIENCED it. The Room has built cult status over the last fifteen years as audiences now take to the cinema to crack wise, throw spoons and generally create mayhem at every screening. The movie’s badness has become a thing to celebrate about it. The film’s director even comes out to screenings in person to promote his awful product, fully aware that everyone in the audience knows it’s a steaming pile. But the cult of celebrity has anointed him a rock star for his Citizen Kane of wretched movies.
But who is this director? The film The Disaster Artist (and the book on which it is based) tries to pull back the veil on who Tommy Wiseau is and how his project went wrong. But the movie can only go so far, as Wiseau has made The Room even more intriguing by being an eclectic and mysterious personality himself. No one seems to know his real age, where he’s from, or how he got the millions of dollars he spent to make his catastrophe of a film. All this cryptic behavior is ripe fodder for James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau, a hilarious impersonation (complete with thick, vague accent, vampire hair and unreasonable number of belts) coupled with what is no doubt real pain that fuels much of Wiseau’s irrational behavior.
The Disaster Artist details Wiseau’s friendship with Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as they flounder as actors in Los Angeles until Tommy writes a script. Wiseau’s unrelenting optimism is attractive to Greg, so he comes aboard to make The Room. The shoot is complicated by Wiseau’s jealousy, erratic behavior and general incompetence coming from a number of fronts. One of the film’s most telling scenes comes mid-shoot of The Room as cast members sit at the lunch table, trying to figure out what they’ve gotten themselves into. One actor suggests The Room is autobiographical.
JULIETTE: So then who is Lisa? Who broke his heart, stabbed him in the back, ruined his life?
ROBYN: Pretty obvious to me… (beat) The universe.
That pain is crucial to Franco’s performance and overall how Wiseau comes across in the movie. Without that depth, The Disaster Artist would no doubt come across solely as mockery, making fun of the guy who made a bad film. Punching down. Wiseau’s fits and rants are childlike, making me think that childhood is the source of his jealousy and hurt, but the Oscar-nominated script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber bypasses any kind of origin story and wisely allows the mystery to thrive.
Franco’s been loading up Best Actor trophies at many of the pre-Oscar awards, but was snubbed by The Academy itself, who nominated all very serious-minded performances by stalwart actors like Denzel, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman. After his Golden Globe win, it came out in the news that Franco was the latest actor to be accused of sexual harassment in Hollywood. That could be the reason voters were shy to vote his way, but there’s also a long-standing inability for The Academy to reward comedic performances, so Franco had EVERYTHING working against him. Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes is similar. Riggs plays up a clown persona in the media but you can tell there’s desperation underneath his antics. It’s a hilarious yet deep and excellent performance – not nominated. There was a push for Tiffany Haddish of Girls Trip, but Oscar went with regular nominee Octavia Spencer, who basically moved the plot of The Shape of Water, but didn’t stand out to me. No The Big Sick in the major categories, no Lego Batman and no Thor: Ragnarock, one of the biggest box office hits of the year with WAY better reviews than Darkest Hour. But Darkest Hour seems so important….
I digress. Look for more on the Oscars in my yearly Oscar rant in Feb. My point is – more Franco got robbed. Look, even if it’s proven Franco’s a total jerk, he gives an exciting and enigmatic turn as Wiseau, one that deserves to be seen (as the film slowly decreases its theater count, post-nominations). And if you’re enticed to see The Room, for the love of god, get out and see it with a crowd!