The Disaster Artist [Work-In-Progress] (SXSW Review)

The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and lovable tribute to the enigmatic and oddly admirable figure who is Tommy Wiseau, director of The Room. This film is really for those who love The Room for its off-the-wall absurdity and incomprehensibility, but there is enough setup and care given to establishing just what kind of person Tommy Wiseau, played by James Franco (127 Hours), is and what The Room means to him and Greg Sestero, played by Dave Franco (Now You See Me 2), that in context one could easily pick up what makes Tommy so worthy of a story. While this film, based on the book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made,” could have easily jumped into a parody of Wiseau and his eccentricities, Franco, who also directed the film, creates a respectful and heartfelt depiction of a man who really just wants to have a friend and follow his passion. Though, he did also fill the movie with all his funny friends and his brother and made a comedy out of a story about a very earnest but very weird man’s passion, so it is difficult to tell where parody and authenticity begin and end.

The Disaster Artist follows Greg Sestero, a nervous and somewhat middlingly talented young actor trying his hand at theater in order to realize his dream of acting in Hollywood when his entire life is upended by meeting the wildly confident and mysteriously wealthy Tommy Wiseau. Greg and Tommy form a friendship and Tommy encourages Greg to follow his goals regardless of what people around him have to say. Tommy and Greg move into a house Tommy just happens to have sitting vacant in Los Angeles and while Greg finds some initial success at an agency, his roles soon start to dry up. Simultaneously, Tommy begins to find that the world can’t seem to understand his vision of himself and his own abilities, so he sets about trying to prove he deosn’t need them by writing a film for him and Greg to star in on their own. The majority of the film is comprised of the process of making of that film, which is titled The Room, and the tumult that comes with Tommy’s wildly chaotic nature.

James Franco’s Tommy is extraordinary as he completely transforms into the role, nearly unrecognizable from the person himself. According to the Q&A after the film, Franco actually directed the entirety of The Disaster Artist in character, which led to both completely uproarious moments and a uniquely surreal experience for those who were fans of The Room. Dave Franco is very good as Greg, who is tasked with navigating Tommy’s volatile unpredictability and understanding him like nobody else seems to have been able to, though he is completely overshadowed by his older brother (in an instance of art imitating life). Though Tommy is portrayed accurately, which means that he is super weird, the story has some genuinely sweet touches that help to humanize Tommy through the insanity that his personality creates.

Whether or not it is earned at the expense of someone else’s hard work, The Disaster Artist succeeds at being a funny film. And really, since Franco’s impression of Wiseau is so incredibly accurate, it is tremendously difficult to say that the film is funny in spite of or despite the issue of its subject being who he is. In a way, this concept mirrors the argument one could make about what makes The Room a great film in the first place. The Room is an entertaining film to watch because it is an honest and obviously genuine attempt at making a passion project that fails so spectacularly that its pathetic absurdity is genius, compelling a person to laugh not at the expense of the film, but in awe of it. So, an honest attempt at trying to capture the process of making such a disaster would have to highlight and play off of that absurdity and however genuine it seems, it will still be funny.

This was billed as a work-in-progress, but as far as it seems, the film is pretty much done. Producer Seth Rogen said in Q&A that there are a few tweaks to be made and that showing the film to the audience in Austin (which included that actual Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau in attendance) was a helpful experience to see what scenes land and which might need some more work. It should be fair to expect that this version of the film won’t be majorly altered when it gets a release. And when it gets that release, whether you are a lover of the cultural phenomenon of good-bad films, The Room, or you have never seen it, this is a wild story full of laughs that is definitely worth seeing.

Producer Seth Rogen, Co-lead Dave Franco, and Director and Co-lead James Franco joke around and answer questions during Q&A after the Disaster Artist screening at the Paramount Theater. SXSW 2017.

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