Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: "The Disaster Artist" is Real Hollywood Movie (And Real Good, Too)

Scene from The Disaster Artist
It's the moment that director James Franco's The Disaster Artist has been building to. As the cast and crew walk in slow motion towards the studio where The Room will be shot, Faith No More's "Epic" begins playing. It's a song that altered the course of metal music with soporific vocals that may seem as disjointed but infectious as what's to come. Even more than that, the title says it all: this is an epic moment in cinema. Once first time director Tommy Wiseau (Franco) takes to the stage, he will become an icon; a proprietor of the acclaimed worst movie ever. It is an epic moment, and one that feels oddly understated at the same time. This is a comedy, but not one meant to mock bad decisions. It is a drama, but not one that revels in pretentious artistry. It's a satire that, like Faith No More, exists in the transparent grey area of pop culture; where descriptors defy logic. The Disaster Artist is swamped with actors who clearly adore the real life Wiseau's work, and their commitment to bringing the odd idiosyncrasies to life makes this one of the best and most perplexing movies of the year. La La Land may have taught artists to dream, but The Disaster Artist opens the door to everyone else.

From his introduction, Wiseau is a contradiction. As he meets Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) at an acting class, he corrects the teacher. He isn't Thomas, always Tommy. He has a vision and a refusal to commit to societal norms. His love for Tennessee Williams isn't so much in being Laurence Olivier, but more of a performance artist, gleefully turning the famous "Stella!" scene into a chance to climb above the stage. He is fearless, he is mysterious, and his confidence alludes common sense. He is a man full of passion, but exists so outside the norms of society that it would take a translator to understand his take on the English language. He is an outsider, riled by a society that refuses his company, which forces him to follow dreams the only way he knows how: by writing script for a movie that he has personal financing of over $6 million for. Where did it come from? Much like his real age and whether he's really from New Orelans, it's hard to say.

Wiseau is always an enigma throughout the entire movie. The famous scenes from The Room that have been mocked get plenty of coverage throughout the film. There's plenty of ribald insecurity to be found in how he shoots his own movie. He is constantly changing the script and yelling with the cast and crew. Because The Room is so absurd if conceptualized as a drama, these moments work as comedy. James Franco's commitment to accent and abstract metaphors meant as Wiseau's pep talk elevate his performance into something surreal. The film may paint him as a frustrated artist for the worst movie ever, but he's also a desperate man wanting to be loved by his peers. He has been struggling to communicate on a human level, but the best that he can do is believe in Greg: typical in Hollywood looks and mostly finds Wiseau a friend because he never gave up on him (and the money and mysterious apartments aren't too bad, either).

Part of the allure of the film is that Wiseau never makes sense to anyone whether in the film or in the audience. He has a dream, but no way to communicate it. He's insecure and takes foolish risks. What's most impressive is not only Franco's ability to be repulsive and sympathetic simultaneously, but that he finds ways to evoke sadness in Wiseau. He has dreams that he can't properly say. He hasn't really been on a film set nor even has a grasp on typical pop culture. His outsider status makes him more appealing because he manages to convey something that is often poorly portrayed through over-sentimentality: artistic struggle. The story is as much a satire on behind the scenes biopics as it is an exploration of The Room. It's hard not to laugh at Wiseau doing dozens of dozens of takes, but it's also his desire to make something great and ironically making something awful that gives the film a bittersweet touch. Much like the film that inspired The Disaster Artist, it's so transcendent that your emotional insides will be confused.

James Franco deserves a ton of credit for making The Disaster Artist into something special. What could've been a bland pastiche to Wiseau ended up being a film on par with director Tim Burton's Ed Wood: it's informative, entertaining, and gives sympathy to filmmakers who will never be Steven Spielberg. They will be those whose dreams are met in roundabout ways. Unlike Ed Wood, the real life Wiseau has lived to see the film that he hoped would launch his career get a reverent treatment that has a serious Oscar push (he also has a cameo late in the film). It's the perfect contradiction to the film's early message that some people aren't inherently talented. Wiseau is someone who will remain debated long after his more revered contemporaries retire. Is he talented? If nothing else, he has a knack for being unlike any other human alive. He is the stuff of legends, in part because of what he didn't know made him an ironic celebrity. The Disaster Artist wouldn't be half as interesting if he was a good director. Still, his dreams are palpable to anyone else's in ways that La La Land tried to glamorized, but failed to capture the generalized reality that failure isn't so bad, so long as you're willing to accept your mistakes.

The Disaster Artist is an incredible feat of cinema. It not only manages to be a film about failing, but is also a commentary on how that failure isn't always permanent. As the credits played, The Room and The Disaster Artist sparred off against each other. How faithful was Franco's direction? It's uncanny how much the two films or similar, whether it be lighting or even petting a dog. By capturing the intimate details of Wiseau as a human, Franco manages to find the heart of why making movies is important to people. He may never directly admit why he's doing such heinous plot contrivances, but the passion is always there. Wiseau is a man wanting to be taken seriously, but doesn't have the training to get his best self. It's comical, but it's also sad. The film's ability to shift rapidly between the two is just as marvelous as the film's football scene, where Wiseau poorly kicks a football that barely rises off the ground. He screams "Touchdown!" as if he's Mean Joe Green. He's far from it, but his enthusiasm is so charming that it doesn't matter. 

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