So bad it’s good films are so hard to quantify for many people. “Why would you want to watch a bad movie anyway?” some would say. Well, there’s a true distinction between “Bad” and “So Bad It’s Good.” Mainly, a high amount of genuine enthusiasm that is in direct disproportion to the level of talent of those involved. Passion goes a long way to making films massively entertaining and a lack of this can make a film completely dire, even if it is competently filmed. One fine example of this is The Room, the 2003 diasterpiece from writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau. And The Disaster Artist is his story.
Well, he’s at least involved in this story. Really, our lead is his The Room co-star/line producer and author of the titular book The Disaster Artist is based on Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). Greg and Tommy (James Franco) make for an intriguing pair. One is a charming young man filled with too much shame to stand out in a crowd. The other is an older weirdo who has too much pride and ambition to know he’s standing out in a crowd. The two of them find each other in an acting class that sets up their dynamic in a hysterical fashion that’s also got a kernel of heart to it. This is what The Disaster Artist strives to make its core emotional tether. The story of a middle aged man thinking he’s taking on a young ward while the young man is trying to understand this alien in front of him. Admittedly, some of Greg’s bigger solo moments from the book end up going to the wayside in service of streamlining the story, but Dave Franco’s winning smile and endearing attempts to understand Tommy make him shin here alongside James’ more showy performance.
The casting of James Franco (who also directs) and his brother Dave is oddly not as distracting as one would suspect. Admittedly, James on paper is too handsome and built to play Wiseau, a man so distinctive. Yet, there are several points where James Franco blurs into his character. His vocal impression and eye twitches in particular feel ripped from Wiseau’s unique presence. James really thrives on the aire of mystery and confusion that Wiseau seeps into his filmmaking. He makes the odd seem nature and sensical. James’ unflappable ballsiness makes him endearing if undecipherable. Thus, his naturally brotherly chemistry with Dave as Greg is incredibly heartfelt. One gets why these two outcasts in the acting community could find each other and form an untraditional bond. Greg needs Tommy’s confidence and Tommy needs Greg’s companionship to balance each other out as they try to make it.
Yet, buried in the nonsense Tommy Wiseau exudes is conflict as well. But not merely in Tommy’s appearance or accent. No, there’s some dark territories of Tommy’s personality that The Disaster Artist covers. Particularly Tommy’s more cruel treatment of actors on set, with far more grounded and righteous anger than Sestero’s book of the same name. Some of the actions Tommy pulls during these harsher moments can go into the point of no return in terms of enjoying him as a character, but luckily the two Francos juggle this perfectly. Tommy seems socially incapable of having a filter and Greg calls him out on it in a way that feels authentic. That manipulative touch of Tommy cycles with the naivete constantly. One can tell that the director’s chair gives Tommy a power dynamic that he doesn’t seem to have. As Tommy would say, this is “no Mickey Mouse stuff.”
Now, while James Franco’s performance is certainly memorable, his direction for The Disaster Artist is oddly far more lacking than in The Room. By which I mean on a level of personality, not quality. Franco’s direction is completely competent here. A few slow motion bits and pieces, some well lit shots. Yet, the most compelling aspect of the direction… is when Franco is intentionally recreating the terrible look and feel of The Room. The showroom display level set design. Off kilter cinematography due to an HD/35 mm camera rig. Copious amounts of continuity errors from shot to shot. It’s a testament to The Room for being the vision of an… auteure like Wiseau. Franco’s recreations are even slightly too polished in the side-by-side comparison to Wiseau’s gas station designed lighting schemes.
The Disaster Artist is far more of a performance showcase than anything else. Not just for the Franco brothers in the lead, but so many other actors that pop up here. So many in fact that they have to cram at least seven of them into a rapid fire opening montage. The more lasting impressions though are made by members of Wiseau’s crew that have their minds boggled as all the silly antics of The Room‘s production take place. There’sSeth Rogen as the long suffering script supervisor Sandy, an ever puzzled Josh Hutcherson with hysterical hair as actor Philip and Paul Scheer as the gradually enraged director of photography Raphael just to name just a few. They’re all grounded characters who gradually grow curious then frustrated then ultimately resigned figures barely able to keep up with Tommy’s typical antics in a hilarious way. Even some of the female characters with smaller roles in both the film and book make a strong impression thanks to game actresses like Alison Brie and Jacki Weaver.
Yet, the onset antics aren’t the driving force here. For both the book and film, The Disaster Artist could have easily been a list of anecdotes about how inept a filmmaker Tommy is. Yet, both manage to twist these stories of a weirdo like Tommy Wiseau and add a mysterious layer of tragedy and humanity to this bizarre creature unleashed here. Sestero and Wiseau’s relationship is oddly magical as they strive for their dreams and while failing to achieve the traditional goal find another avenue to immortality. One with more laughs amongst the cheers, but it’s still a type of recognition that made the two of them cult favorites. That entire stumbling into success plotline makes this an universal story of someone finding a path to their desires they never anticipated and seizing it alongside true friends. It’s a case of taking the road less traveled yet finding that destination down that dirt path. Now, to quote our film’s titular character, “Here you go. Keep the change. Oh hai doggie. Bye!”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Thrown Water Bottles