The Disaster Artist review: What a story, James!

  • The Disaster Artist (2017)

Embracing the strangeness of the mystery man behind The Room with confidence and care for details, James Franco muses on long and winding creative roads that might lead you to unexpected outcomes, and laughs at stereotypes surrounding a Hollywood movie set in a hilarious adaptation of Greg Sestero’s memoir.

the disaster artist review

Some say that psychology explains the decision of those who decide to watch The Room. Although theories are a dime a dozen on the Internet, almost every one of them has a tiny seed of truth planted at its heart. Once named “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”, the film hides continuity problems and plotholes which make a drama that was allegedly inspired by The Talented Mr Ripley and the work of James Dean unintentionally hilarious. The film flopped, and its producer-writer-director-leading-man lost lots of money to screen it in LA to be able to compete for the Academy Awards. Why did it gain a cult status then, attracting thousands of fans who throw plastic spoons and footballs at the screen and chorally recite the lines with the actors?

People argue it’s because of our desire to think we’re better than somebody else, even if it’s just a funny man that made a bad film. It might be true, it might not, and let’s give the humanity some credit here; but the newest film by James Franco encourages us to see Tommy Wiseau from a unique perspective. The Disaster Artist, the adaptation of Greg Sestero’s behind-the-scenes tell-all book, takes a completely different turn, talking about determination, following your dreams and embracing your weirdness. And it mocks a glamourised perception of the film set where movie stars bask in glory, too.

Greg meets Tommy in an acting class. Taken aback by his intense performance, he invites him to practice together. When his new friend forces him to shout out Shakespeare verses in the restaurant full of people to counter his fear of expressing emotions and offers a move to Los Angeles, he doesn’t think twice and puts all his trust in a strange man he shares a dream with. Both of them soon find themselves in the hustling world of Hollywood, but “becoming a star” is not straightforward at all. After being scolded by a film producer for approaching him in a restaurant, Tommy decides to make his own film. Additional tensions develop between the duo, with the stinging envy that complicates their relationship on set and in real life.

Let’s get the first question from the FAQ page out the way: you don’t have to have watched The Room to understand the jokes. If you did, however, more of them will pop up at you like little Easter eggs. Franco takes the humour of this absurd movie set and makes us realise that time you enjoy wasting is not wasted, especially when its final product resonates with people in surprising ways.

James Franco has a fantastic ability to channel Tommy. His recreation of Wiseau’s persona is grand and bold like the mysterious man behind The Room: from his New-Orleans-cum-Eastern-European accent to the externalisation of his mindset, he sheds some light on the mysterious character built on contradictions and white lies. But even if he’s pleasantly bizarre, the film doesn’t forgive him the jealousy, inflexibility and passive-aggressiveness he expresses, so he’s a fleshed out human rather than a helpless victim of his circumstances.

Franco’s portrayal isn’t a caricature designed to laugh him off or a copy that blindly recreates the myth of Tommy’s persona. Instead, it’s a delightful attempt to ditch the labels and show Tommy as someone who tries to find his feet in a place that always fascinated him, played with incredible self-awareness from the leading man. His character becomes a study of fitting in: when you’re a foreigner and don’t grasp that a popular Christmas movie might change a title in another language, or simply when you care about different things than the people who surround you or express yourself in an offbeat manner that doesn’t resonate well with the rest.

Franco doesn’t hate the player, but he surely mocks the game. He tackles the stereotypical vision of what a “big Hollywood movie” is, and how the set is supposed to work. Tommy’s decision that showing his butt on screen is obligatory to sell his film and the dedicated superstar toilet on set clashes with the image of people begging for fresh air and water when the place becomes dreadfully overheated and feuds erupt out of nowhere. It’s a patchwork of little absurd situations that help us understand the leading man’s grandiose ideas through the environment he contributes to. On the other hand, it underlines that making a film is a huge task and completing such a big (even if flawed) project takes a lot of effort. “Look at them yo-yos, that’s the way you do it… Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair,” sang Mark Knopfler once, and here we can certainly feel the same critique regarding how people outside of the industry romanticise filmmaking at times.  But in Franco’s take, no effort is wasted.

A key theme in the film is also Tommy’s relationship with Greg, played by Dave Franco. As opposed to the main character, he’s granted a substantial character transformation fuelled by the courage that his friend helped to foster. The brothers have a whole lot of fun recreating their story; if The Room could’ve been compared to Welles’s masterpiece for a stark contrast, The Disaster Artist’s student-mentor relationship enters the hall of fame where Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and many other mentors in the history of the cinema reside. Their creative partnership allows them to spread their wings and finally feel understood, and the joyful, fluttering comedy makes their bond even more alluring.

Ultimately, it’s the film about passion which transcends your circumstances: it shows that the route to your dreams might be long and winding and the outcome might not necessarily be what you expected, but you should trust the journey and enjoy it with your entire heart. It’s incredibly funny and uplifting without taking an obvious route into Wiseau’s biography, and showcasing its clever observations about creativity and individuality in situational humour.

The Disaster Artist opens widely in the UK on the 6th of December 2017.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being.
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