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New Release Review - THE DISASTER ARTIST

the disaster artist review
The story behind the creation of cult movie The Room.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: James Franco

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Zoey Deutch, Alison Brie, Kristen Bell, Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston, Kate Upton, Lizzy Caplan, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Adam Scott, Melanie Griffith, Jacki Weaver, Bob Odenkirk

the disaster artist poster


'Cult Movie' is a label that's applied all too liberally, often used as a shortcut to describe any film that plays a little offbeat. In its traditional use, the term refers to a movie that initially failed to find an audience, only to later connect with a small but appreciative 'cult' of fans. Few movies embody such a definition quite like 'filmmaker' Tommy Wiseau's 2003 epic of ineptitude, The Room.

There are bad movies and there's The Room, a film that displays such a rejection of conventional filmmaking methods that it almost feels like it was made by a visitor from another planet, someone who observed humans but couldn't quite figure them out. Perhaps Wiseau is an alien being. After all, to this day nobody knows where he came from (he claims New Orleans, but his bizarre accent suggests otherwise), how old he is (he claims to have been in his early twenties while shooting The Room, but his wizened face makes a mockery of this notion) or where he got the six million dollars(!!!) that he pumped into the film.

the disaster artist

Wiseau paid to have The Room play in a Los Angeles cinema for two weeks, to ensure it met the qualification criteria for an Academy Award. Needless to say, the Academy failed to take notice, along with the cinema-going citizenry of LA. When the movie hit DVD however, word began to spread among aficionados of trash cinema that this was something special, and Wiseau found himself feted for all the wrong reasons, touring the world introducing his unique creation to hordes of adoring piss-takers. Remarkably, the film even managed to eventually turn a profit on its ludicrously inflated budget.

Adapted from the tell-all memoir by Wiseau protege and actor Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist sees James Franco direct and star as the enigmatic Wiseau, with his brother Dave playing Sestero. Wisely dropping the non-linear structure of the book, Franco's film focusses chiefly on the making of The Room, following an opening act that establishes the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, who meet at a San Francisco acting class, the shy latter drawn to the former's extravagant enthusiasm.

The two move into Wiseau's LA apartment and pursue their shared dream of stardom. After several soul-crushing knockbacks, Wiseau decides he doesn't need Hollywood, that he'll make a movie on his own, the greatest movie ever - that'll show them! And so begins the creation of a movie that has thrilled and confused audiences over the last 14 years.

the disaster artist

The Disaster Artist shares similarities with Michel Hazanavicius's Godard biopic Redoubtable, in that both movies are cinematic comedy roasts that betray as much about their own directors as those portrayed in their films. Franco is a divisive character, either a talented renaissance man or a pretentious clown, depending where you stand on the actor/writer/director/poet etc. Like Wiseau, he certainly doesn't lack confidence, but his talents, outside the field of acting at least, rarely back up his ambition. This, to quote another biopic of a notoriously untalented filmmaker, will be the one he's remembered for. His committed performance as Wiseau certainly suggests it's the role he was born to play. It's a take that's far from nuanced, and strays dangerously close to imitation, but you simply can't take your eyes off Franco. It's very difficult for a good actor to play a bad actor, but Franco nails the bizarre mannerisms of Wiseau, who even when not in front of a camera, seems to always be putting on a show. You'll have seen better performances in 2017, but you won't have seen many this engrossing.

Behind the camera, Franco keeps things simple, focussing on the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, which begins as a mutual bromance and ends up with the two bickering like a low rent Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski as Wiseau's worst elements rise to the surface on set. In the light of the recent wave of allegations against the men of Hollywood, the dark side of Wiseau probably plays a little darker than Franco intended, with the amateur auteur wielding his power to demean and belittle his cast and crew. A scene in which Wiseau runs into an unnamed producer who is clearly Harvey Weinstein will have skin crawling in the audience.

the disaster artist

But as Jacki Weaver, playing actress Carolyn Minnott confesses, "Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day in reality," and where The Disaster Artist succeeds best is in capturing the sheer joy of filmmaking, regardless of the talent involved. As such, it will likely be best appreciated by anyone who has ever found themselves on a movie set, attempting to realise their dreams, and it's no surprise that half of Hollywood was eager to take part, with a cameo list that will have your finger worn out from scrolling down its IMDB page.

Given its uniquely narrow focus, it's difficult to gauge The Disaster Artist objectively. As someone who has seen The Room more times than is healthy, and is familiar with the Wiseau myth, Franco's film played as an absolute delight for me. I can't help suspect the average viewer who lays down a tenner to see The Disaster Artist will be oblivious to Wiseau and his film, and find the whole affair baffling. Unlike Tim Burton's Ed Wood, which simply requires the viewer to possess a basic awareness of what a b-movie is, Franco's film requires its audience to be entirely familiar with the unique scenario portrayed here. Half of the audience at the press screening I attended was in stitches throughout, while the rest sat in telling silence. Do your homework for this one, and you'll be richly rewarded.

The Disaster Artist is in UK/ROI cinemas December 6th.



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