Monday, December 11, 2017

James Franco Finds The Humanity of Tommy Wiseau In The Thoroughly Entertaining The Disaster Artist

In June 2003, a small independent movie called The Room premiered and soon caught on like wildfire with the general public not because of how good but rather just because of how much of a staggering misfire it was. The Room was a one of a kind vision from Tommy Wiseau, the man who had starred in the project in addition to writing and directing it, whose nonsensical plot, memorably off-kilter dialogue and the strange acting coming from Wiseau in the lead role all combined to make it an instant midnight movie staple that people have been enjoying for over 14 years now. For such an iconic movie, one from such a singularly unique mind, you've gotta imagine there would be an impressive story behind how it got made.

Such a story is the bedrock of The Disaster Artist, a feature film adaptation of a book penned by actor Greg Sestero (who starred in The Room) about the making of the film and his own long-term friendship with Wiseau prior to them teaming up to make this one-of-a-kind movie. It's easy to see a version of The Disaster Artist that becomes just fan service for hardcore fans of The Room, one where there's not so much a story but rather just a steady stream of references to the original 2003 cult classic, but surprisingly, James Franco and company have instead used the tale of Wiseau trying to get The Room made as fodder for an enjoyable comedy that has a real heart to it and a palpable love for its characters.

The Disaster Artist begins in San Francisco in 1998, where Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) meets Greg Sistero (Dave Franco) at an acting class and the two become fast friends united in their love for acting and their shared drive to achieve their dreams of making it big in Hollywood. It's from these initial scenes of Tommy and Greg meeting that it becomes clear how The Disaster Artist is going to make such a unique figure like Tommy Wiseau function in what's supposed to be a realistic motion picture. We get to discover Wiseau through Sistero's eyes (Sistero is the audience point-of-view character in many ways), and while it's true that Wiseau is an oddball individual with eccentric tendencies, it's also clear why Sistero clicks with Wiseau. This future director cares enough for Sistero right off the bat that he's willing to push his new friend to become as good as he can be as an actor.

Wiseau is different from the norm, sure, but The Disaster Artist makes it clear from the beginning that there is a person (albeit, a heavily mysterious one) underneath a bunch of over-the-top traits which is nicely exemplified in a surprisingly emotionally potent scene where he's told the only acting roles he can get are playing monsters or villains despite his desire to play heroic lead roles. The struggles he and Sistero face in getting acting work in Los Angeles lead Wiseau to decide to make their own movie to star in called The Room. This is where The Disaster Artist reveals its other big brilliant storytelling move in that it reveals itself to actually be about the clash between one's idealistic hopes for the future and the actual outcomes of life that don't end up matching our idealistic hopes.

This theme seems to tie in with how Wiseau wants The Room to be seen as a dramatic successor to the works of Tennesse Williams, an outcome we all know won't happen. Thus, the characters in The Disaster Artist have their own expectations for the future completely shattered by reality and that includes Sistero's assumption that Wiseau will be just fine as the director of The Room when in reality his previously scrappy hopeful pal turns into an absolute monster on set. Similarly, the dreams of achieving fame & fortune as best buds Sistero & Wiseau once shared in San Francisco don't go as planned once the shoot for The Room commences and then proceeds to go way way way over-schedule. Naive hopes turn into soul-crushing reality in The Disaster Artist as easily as Jesus turned water into wine.

That's a pretty hefty realistic message to tie into a movie about the making of The Room, but don't worry, there's plenty of laughs to be had throughout the movie, many of them coming from James Franco's wonderful performance as Tommy Wiseau. Franco, himself an oddball auteur, is absolutely terrific in the part, he gets Wiseau's mannerisms, vocal inflections, and body language down pat while making a human being out of this character, he's not interested in doing a simple impersonation of Wiseau. Dave Franco too shines as Sistero, playing the more down-to-earth member of the lead duo and doing a lovely job of playing off his real brother in the lead role. These two actors bring a sense of sweetness to the best moments of their friendship that I appreciate the movie playing so sincerely, it makes their relationship feel all that much more engaging and true. In small supporting roles, Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron are an absolute riot, Hutcherson especially is such perfect casting for the role of the youthful character Denny. 

The absolute best acting moments of The Disaster Artist hail from the two lead Franco’s in the final scene of the film, which takes place at the premiere of The Room and weaves a hopeful note to the movie's theme of reality rarely if ever matching up to our own hopes. That is true, but maybe there's something good to be gleaned from the eventual outcomes of these seemingly bleak scenarios. Maybe something that seems like a misfire can be a win and can still provide some form of artistic satisfaction too. The Disaster Artist is not here to point and laugh at Tommy Wiseau, rather, it's using his one-of-a-kind tale of unique filmmaking as a template for thoughtful contemplations and loads of great comedy. James Franco's newest directorial effort has been garnering endless positive buzz ever since it premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival nine months ago, but even with all that hype, I still wasn't prepared for just how humorous and surprisingly emotionally resonant The Disaster Artist would end up being. As Tommy Wiseau himself might say, this one's a real Hollywood movie winner.

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