FILM REVIEW: "The Disaster Artist" is a charming ode to The Outsiders
Because we're unable to get past our morbid fascination with the infamous 'so bad that it's good' movie The Room - written, starring, produced, financed, and directed by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau - there's now a James Franco/Seth Rogen joint about the making of the 2003 cult classic; a cult classic which to this day is playing to sold-out midnight screenings all over the world. Franco himself is a self-consciously kooky artiste, despite his James Dean good looks and mainstream success, so this is a creative marriage made in weirdo heaven. Thankfully though, The Disaster Artist, based off the book of the same name, actually succeeds as a straightforward tribute to the imperfect, messy process of creativity and the imperfect, messy process of fraternal love.
The Disaster Artist's good heart is due its keen sensitivity, its even-keeled approach to the battier-than-thou reality in which it's entirely feasible that Tommy Wiseau is a deer in a Gene Simmons skin suit. He's a strange guy, is the thing; easy to make fun of. Franco as Tommy Wiseau is the best he's ever been, and that includes his turn as the white trash rapper Alien in Spring Breakers. Not only does he nail Wiseau's unearthly Dracula accent and uniquely stubborn refusal to engage with reality on any level whatsoever, but he succeeds at making this guy who we still know nothing about a complicated, 3-dimensional person. You always get what's motivating him and what's driving him to bouts of rage and depression. The Disaster Artist is kind to Wiseau without sugar-coating the more monstrous parts of his personality. His abusive treatment of the cast during the making of The Room particularly galls. Still, Wiseau's reaction when he can't ignore the stone cold fact that The Room isn't the dramatic masterpiece he alone was convinced it was is...well, it's crushing. Moments earlier though, you're genuinely laughing at his disasterpiece along with the rest of the bemused crowd on screen. The tension of laughing at this strange guy and genuinely feeling for him is wrung for all it's worth.
But The Disaster Artist is not just a fair examination of a unique creative mind, it's also a good old-fashioned bromantic comedy. The Disaster Artist, both the book and the film, is told through the perspective of everyman Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), a struggling actor who is both in awe of and embarrassed by Wiseau's boundless enthusiasm and self-belief. The opening scene between them quickly establishes their undeniable differences and why they'd form a fast friendship, all in one breath. It's sharp, efficient storytelling that never lets up, and this keeps the movie moving along at a nice clip. Dave Franco doesn't inhabit Greg with quite the same deranged conviction with which his older brother inhabits Wiseau. Yet in a strange way this works in the movie's favour. Instead of going for mimicry, Younger Franco goes for average-guyness to counter Older Franco's weirdness. I guess this is a given being that they're talented brothers, but they make for outstanding screen partners in these roles. Their relationship goes through the believable peaks and valleys, and is always sweet.
In fact, it's enough to compensate for the fact that everyone else is more or less there to fill out the screen as a recognisable face from The Room. Except, of course, for Rogen as the script supervisor, the incredulous Greek Chorus member providing hilarious meta-commentary on Wiseau's harebrained directorial endeavours, like filming in an alleyway set instead of an actual alleyway or filming scenes with both 35mm film and HD.
Wiseau's ambitions and straight-faced insistence on his all-American appeal approached frightening lunacy, yet all the same, he willed himself to become a kind of icon. It's sad and ridiculous in my eyes, almost akin to laughing and clapping for the slow kid who eats glue for attention and ironic adoration, but The Disaster Artist is lovely and savvy enough to find the genuine inspiration in such an unlikely yet true story.