The Disaster Artist Review [SXSW 2017]
The Room – a genre-jumping fluke that God himself couldn’t predict – may relinquish its midnight-movie throne once The Disaster Artist dumbfounds unprepared audiences. James Franco chronicles Tommy Wiseau’s indescribable rise in this hilarious tell-all, adapted from Greg Sestero’s bestselling biography of the same name. Bottomless bank accounts, limp-wristed football tosses, an accent without definition – The Disaster Artist tells a story too ridiculous for sanity. Maybe that’s why you’ll lose your mind from laughing so damn hard?
The Disaster Artist begins with a talking head segment that praises The Room (Kevin Smith/J.J. Abrams/Adam Scott), anointing its decade-defying relevance as nothing short of deserved. We then meet Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in a San Francisco acting class, alongside fellow student Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). They strike an immediate friendship, feeding off one another’s energy. Sestero envies Wiseau and his free-spirited abandon, while Wiseau just wants a friend. With a plan for success it’s off to LA (Wiseau owns an apartment there), and after multiple strike-outs, a script is born: The Room. Two words set to redefine cinematic history – for better, worse, or whatever really happened.
James’ performance as Tommy Wiseau is a “Dracula” looking clone, perfectly matching tone, mannerisms and insanity. Lines are delivered with that same “New Orleans” accent (more like a valley girl meets broken English?), chewing through pizza pies and slurping Red Bulls while brother Dave laughs in disbelief (in character as Greg). Chances are that you only know Wiseau from The Room, so it’s James’ duty to offer a more personal take on Wiseau – which, surprisingly, he does. Many will focus solely on inside jokes that refer to The Room highlights, but James does a tremendous job painting Wiseau with human strokes. Vanity escapes a man who follows one crazy dream, as James portrays a Hollywood archetype whose soulful ambitions laugh in the faces of those who demand he’s no hero, just a villain. Strangely enough (based on material), raw honesty might be James’ greatest achievement – not comedic timing.
Let’s not discount the comedy, though. James painstakingly details how your favorite The Room moments were created, much to the disbelief of anyone around him. All the confusing Tommy-isms are one thing, but watching Wiseau fail to create sexual chemistry with lead actress Juliette Danielle is both eye-opening and gut-busting. “I aim where I am!” screams a frustrated Wiseau, thrusting towards Danielle’s stomach as production hands whisper “does he even know what a vagina is?” Or what about the replay-worthy “Oh Hi Mark!” rooftop scene that took Wiseau over 60 takes to “perfect,” where Sestero puts a water bottle in his hand that’s now iconic? James hits these notes beat-for-beat, just like Wiseau on camera. It’s some soul-selling black magic shit that makes me fear for James’ commitment, especially when we learn about Tommy’s jealous tendencies (spying on crew members).
The brotherly dynamic between James and Dave plays well when translated to their on-screen connection, given how Wiseau and Sestero share a bond stronger than friendship. Sestero stands by Wiseau through weird and weirder, as The Room slowly becomes an unsalvageable dumpster fire (that somehow cost more than $6 million?!?!). Greg sits wide-eyed as Wiseau jumps around a community stage screaming “STELLA!!!” (while partner Zoey Deutch cowers in fear), awe-struck by the man hanging from scaffolding for no apparent reason. Jokes are paramount, but feeling still permeates a thick wall constructed by James’ constant scene-stealing quips. Dave and James rekindle a bromance for the ages, awkward in its beginnings, but wholly invested in bigger Hollywood takedowns.
Outside of Wiseau and Sestero, characters are cameo fodder. If you’ve never read The Disaster Artist, names like script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) and rental warehouse owner Bill Meurer (Hannibal Buress) offer little significance – but that doesn’t weaken portrayals. Zac Efron ‘roids out as Chris R. (Wiseau named his character Chris R., yes), Josh Hutcherson dives into bed as Philip Haldiman (HI DANNY!) and Ari Graynor is a saint as Juliette Danielle (who endures Wiseau’s borderline abusive treatment). All the major players are cast with behavioral understanding, from Paul Scheer as an aggressive D.P. to Judd Apatow as a random big-shot producer. Even bit players like Sugar Lyn Beard or Jason Mantzoukas become catalysts for chaos, as they’re mistreated by an unraveling visionary with zero distinguishable vision. Nathan Fielder, Bryan Cranston, Alison Brie – it’s a bunch of friends pretending to make a terrible fake movie, and learning lessons along the way?
Comedic elements make The Disaster Artist a true-tale oddity bursting with laughs, but at what cost? James Franco swears his allegiance to Wiseau and The Room, yet most jokes make Tommy a punch line (intended or not). Recreations of now-infamous The Room scenes are one thing (“Hi doggy!” pat, high-thrusting butt sex scene, tuxedo football), but if you’re respecting Wiseau, do you need Bob Odenkirk to sling ten “Wiseau looks like a monster” insults instead of two or three? We laugh hardest when Tommy is at his worst, only accentuating this enigma of a Hollywood “success” story. Jokes about age and heritage are all in good fun, but homage and satire blur a line that certainly doesn’t redeem. Wiseau sat only a few rows away during my SXSW screening, and many jokes made me uncomfortable just knowing he was there. We’re laughing at the man’s expense. There’s no sugar-coating.
That said, The Disaster Artist is going to please so many of you. Fans of The Room absolutely MUST seek out this do-it-yourself story about chasing dreams, as should anyone interested in behind-the-scenes filmmaking for that matter. James Franco directs a surprisingly open
dramedy comedy, but it’s hard to tell if we’re laughing with or at Tommy Wiseau. It’s a product of design. James could never create a story about the single most absurd movie product in American history WITHOUT making Wiseau the butt of humor. But to this extent? Conflicted laughs are still laughs, and if you have no investment in The Room canon, you’ll appreciate an even cleaner slate. Just calibrate your senses now, and prepare for an uproarious marketing nightmare unlike Hollywood has ever seen. A laugh’s a laugh, right?
The Disaster artist is obscurest hilarity set to a filmmaker's struggle, all linked to James Franco's transformative performance as the mythical Tommy Wiseau.