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Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist: a mediocre film about a terrible film. Not much more than a pedestal for James Franco’s performance.

San Francisco, 1998. During an acting class Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) first meet. One is an all-American 19-year-old with a “baby face”, the other a gentleman of unknown age, origin and wealth. Little did they know that 20 years later that first meeting would have been re-enacted in a Hollywood film, The Disaster Artist.

When they first moved to L.A., both Greg and Tommy had to confront the harsh truth of mediocrity and rejection. But if “Hollywood rejects us, we do it on our own”, and soon after the script of The Room saw the light of day. The two friends decided to make their own movie, with an unlimited budget mysteriously provided by Tommy. In the process of making The Room, people very soon started doubting whether Tommy had ever seen a movie, let alone made one. And we all know how it ended: The Room became a cult success, years after its release in 2003, and has since then been celebrated as the epitome of all those films “so bad, they’re good”. What made the film resurface has been Sestero’s 2013 book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.

The Room is quite the enjoyable piece of media if watched in the right setting, preferably in a crowded movie theatre that can appreciate how hilariously bad it his. However, it becomes painfully hard to watch alone in one’s own bedroom on a laptop. I talk from my own cringe-ful experience. The Disaster Artist is clearly primarily aimed at an audience of film buffs that has watched Wiseau’s film numerous times and will be able to quote along and recreate the moviegoing experience of The Room itself. Notable lines like “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” and “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” were being shouted at the screen at the Gulbenkian screening of Febuary 23rd.

The film is still somewhat enjoyable for the average spectator, even if they might not get the inside jokes and appreciate the meticulousness of the re-enactments and will surely not stay for the after-credits bonus scene. However, the film inevitably loses much of its appeal to the viewer who doesn’t know much of the back-story and the cult engagement surrounding the apparent lack of self-awareness of the creators of The Room (which was written, produced, directed and starred by Wiseau himself).

Nonetheless, everyone can appreciate James Franco’s amazing performance, nailing all of Wiseau’s mannerisms and quirks, and perfectly reproducing his unknown accent. But maybe Franco’s voice comes through more as the lead actor than the director of the film. It is easy to understand just from Franco’s performance in this film why an artist as exuberant and impetuous as he is himself would strike his interest.

However, the film is lacking a definite direction. It is not clear what the aim is supposed to be. One meaning suggested by the film is on never letting people or situations undermine your dreams and keep following your artistic calling; a sort of La La Land for losers. Another meaning could be about it being easier to laugh at people rather than understand them. But the film doesn’t give us the tools and the character background to truly understand Wiseau. The novel was adapted mainly for the goofy moments than for the introspection. At the end of the film it remains unexplained why Greg would keep working with Tommy. There isn’t much insight in the bromance except for the sporadic homoerotic hints and some cute bonding moments. The film doesn’t redeem Tommy, who remains a joke, a freak to drag on the stage of the Golden Globes for everyone to admire, but not let him speak.

Finally, we can’t help but read some of the scenes in The Disaster Artist in a different light after the sexual abuse allegations against Franco. The character of Tommy is in various scenes portrayed as a problematic director that abuses of his position of power. Tommy’s monstrous side comes out in an uncomfortable sequence in which, with his dick out, he mistreats The Room’s co-star during the infamous and agonising sex scene. During the filming of a later scene Tommy can’t help but laugh at the story of a woman getting beat up to the point of landing in the hospital. Of course, these moments are not there to represent James Franco’s views. They are devices to show to which extend Tommy is unaware of filmmaking and societal norms. While awkwardness is present between the members of the crew during the filming of these scenes, there is no clear condemnation of Wiseau’s behaviour in the film. He remains the hero we are supposed to sympathise with.

Overall, The Disaster Artist is funny mostly because The Room is funny. It is an engaging can’t-believe-it’s-true comedy, but the film is not of much interest besides the performance of James Franco and the meticulousness that went into reshooting several scenes from The Room, virtuously displayed at the end of the film for the spectator to admire. It doesn’t solve all the mysteries that still surround Wiseau and leaves us with a bittersweet feeling at the end of it. As much as it is still enjoyable, the film doesn’t give much insight to the journey of the hero we’re supposed to follow and it leans on The Room for much of its comedic effects.

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