Movie Review: The Disaster Artist


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All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.


It pains me to say this because I don't want to dissuade anyone from seeing movies, but here’s my warning: don’t see The Disaster Artist unless you've watched The Room. 

This is a higher barrier than it first appears because you must see The Room at a theater, or at least with a bunch of people who know the movie better than you. Do not, I repeat: DO NOT, watch The Room at home, without someone who’s seen it before. (Watching The Room requires a Timothy Leary-type guide to show you how to watch the film, which is as an interactive experience.  So, yes, I guess that means watching The Room at home on your own is the movie equivalent of a bad trip.) 

You need to see The Room first because The Disaster Artist was created by and for aficionados of The Room. Let’s be clear: I’m one of them. My feelings on The Room were captured in the blog I subtitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love "The Room,” a history of my involvement with this phenomenon.

Not that The Disaster Artist is unfit for novices, but your appreciation for this movie degrades radically if you overlook subtle references sprinkled through the first half of The Disaster Artist (like Tommy telling Greg to "bring yaar football" when they first hang out), or grok the detailed scene recreations in the second half. (On the latter: stick around to the credits and you’ll see the side-by-side comparisons.) It’s similar to one of my long-time favorite films: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. You can enjoy that movie on its own merits, but you must be familiar with Hamlet to appreciate how it weaves in and out through Shakespeare’s play. So, yes, I think I just equated The Room with Hamlet.

Demonstrating my point: after the show I spoke with a married couple who were talking about the film on their way out of the theater. I noticed them before the show (monitoring the audience is an old habit now), because they were of retirement age and seemed out of place at the 5 PM opening night show, which is usually a die-hard crowd: people who are eagerly awaiting a film and want to see it before anyone talks to them about it. Turns out The Disaster Artist was #3 on People’s list of recommended What to Watch, so she suggested that they see it. (Think about that: two mid-western retired readers of People magazine, going in cold to see The Disaster Artist. That’s awesome.) They admitted to being confused by the film, but said that they enjoyed it. Still, their faces told a clear story: they had seen the unabashed weirdness on the screen, and weren’t sure just how much truth there was in it. (It does say that it's Based on a True Story.) I’m here to tell you reality IS every bit as weird as what’s in The Disaster Artist, and probably weirder.

So what about the movie?

Let me say this: James Franco is inspired as Tommy Wiseau. Wearing an eyelid prosthetic to give his face the correct amount of droop, his Tommy is over the top, which feels right for this story. I really believe that Tommy is out that far. Please take a moment to sample his official YouTube channel:

Unfortunately, Dave Franco underplays Greg Sestero. I get it that Greg is kind of a milquetoast personality, but Dave Franco’s Greg comes off as too earnest, too nice. (Not a huge surprise: the movie adapts Greg’s book The Disaster Artist).  He’s the all-American friend of the cast & crew; the only who still stand up to Tommy for others, but cannot (stifled sob, bit lip) seem to do so for himself. But I just couldn’t get past Dave Franco’s weak beard and weaker character. On the other hand, it’s a whole other level of meta for Tommy/James to carry along his feeble friend/brother, Greg/Dave through the movie. (From left to right in the picture above, that's Dave, Greg, James, and Tommy.)

Meanwhile, much like with The Room, some of the supporting actors really shine in their smaller roles. (OK, I’m kidding… none of the actors in The Room shine, in any scene.)  Ari Graynor brilliantly recreates Lisa, Tommy’s love interest in the film, and Zac Efron nails his big scene as Chris R. (Internet world – help on this, please: didn’t they film that scene in the alley in The Disaster Artist, but it’s on the roof in the film? Maybe I should read Greg’s book, they could very well have filmed it twice.) 

My favorite supporting part was Jacki Weaver as Lisa’s mom, who had some of the funniest moments in the film with her fixation on her character’s (plot spoiler!) cancer which (double plot spoiler!!) is mentioned exactly once in The Room. 

Most of all, I appreciate The Disaster Artist’s script for telling the story with enough pacing to let the first half breathe, developing the friendship between Tommy and Greg, before quickening the pace as filming begins. Unfortunately, around 90 minutes in (with 15 minutes left) the film’s story hits fast-forward, and the film compresses the gradual transformation of the film as a failure of personal pathos to a comedic tour-de-force in one showing, a process that really took, oh, 2 weeks. Compressing it into one night works well to complete the movie's narrative arc, but I was left wanting to know more about Tommy's life after the release. Maybe there’s enough story there for a sequel…