Best of 2017: “The Disaster Artist”

The Harbinger (Prairie Village, Kansas)

It takes a lot to put yourself out there. It oftentimes doesn’t work out, but it also doesn’t always work out in the way we imagined it would. That’s what makes Tommy Wiseau’s story of failure such a beautiful success. He put himself out there, and despite all the rejection and pessimism from Hollywood producers and casting directors, he made the movie no one told him would ever be made: “The Room.” Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau’s best friend and co-star in “The Room,” wrote a tell-all book about how he and Tommy met. He writes about everything about the creation of their infamous cult hit from pre-production through filming to postproduction. Skip ahead to 2017, and James Franco stars and directs his film adaptation of the book under the same name: “The Disaster Artist.”

The single most important person to talk about in this review is James Franco himself. He makes this film. If he was less than perfect “The Disaster Artist” would be a 7 out of 10 at best. His performance is deserving of an Academy Award win. Franco nails every aspect of Tommy Wiseau: his voice, his movements, the way he walks, etc. Such dedication to a character is only achieved by the greats or at least the ones known for going all the way on serious roles. He is using method acting, made famous by Marlon Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis, who are the greatest actors of all time. James Franco was directing this movie as Tommy Wiseau, which is just about the greatest event to ever occur on a movie set. Dedication to a role is paramount. Understanding why your character does what they do is of the utmost importance. That’s what acting is all about. If you can’t learn empathy, you will never become an actor (or at least one that will be remembered).

Speaking of acting, James Franco wasn’t the only guy in this movie. His brother, Dave Franco, plays Greg, Tommy’s best friend. The role was wasted on Dave. It’s a shame in more ways than one because Dave looks quite a bit like Greg, but it feels like Dave is just here. He doesn’t add anything. This is a hard thing to explain because Dave Franco isn’t bad, but he doesn’t act like a person He’s this nervous little boy who’s just along for the ride, and I have a hard time believing that’s what Greg was really like. He becomes somebody once the shooting for “The Room” begins, but that’s the last third of the movie. Dave Franco hasn’t been in a whole hell of a lot of movies, and biopics demand some serious commitment. I don’t think he was quite ready for it, but he certainly is a decent actor and has potential.

The cinematography/camera work was primarily all handheld, and it looked great. If handheld doesn’t fit the film it’s being used in, moviegoers can tell immediately. There’s something about a movie with unfitting handheld camerawork that makes it uneasy to watch. However, in “The Disaster Artist,” it fits the tone so well it becomes the icing on the cake. It’s such a personal, realistically written and acted movie that makes it perfect for an up-close and personal handheld approach. Handheld has gotten oversaturated in television, and it is seeping into film. I don’t mind the technique if used correctly. It’s important to make the decision of what style of camerawork you want for your movie. The job of the cinematographer is to not only film the movie interestingly but to film it in a way that fits the tone as well.

The writing is great. It’s extremely realistic, and realism is the cornerstone of a biographical film (I think that’s pretty obvious). Every single joke lands brilliantly, with the aid of James Franco’s performance, of course. Tommy Wiseau is just a funny person, and with the appropriate lines, Franco can fully become Tommy Wiseau, which he did.

This was such an important story to tell because people seemed to have gotten it in their head that Tommy Wiseau was just some weird guy who made one of the worst movies of all time. A lot of terrible movies are made purely in hopes of making money. I’m not talking about major theatrical releases, I’m talking the really bad movies that are independently made with micro-budgets. These kinds of terrible movies usually have the same reasons for why they are as bad as they are: little to no effort was put into it, an asinine and egotistical director thinking he/she is talented, and the rest of their crew not having a clue as to what they’re doing. “The Room” is in its own world. Wiseau didn’t want to make millions. Wiseau didn’t want to set up a scam. He wanted to be like his heroes and make a critical masterpiece that would stand the test of time. Did he do that? Not even remotely close. But he was a person with thoughts and feelings. He loved his best friend Greg and wanted things to work for him as much as he wanted things to work for himself. This is what sets Wiseau apart from all of the other failures in the filmmaking business.

Tommy Wiseau is such a nice guy, and he had the hopes and dreams that the most successful filmmakers of all time had. However, Wiseau doesn’t have a director’s eye. In other words, he doesn’t have the artistic vision and talent to pull off a really good movie, which is what makes him exactly like the other infamously bad directors. He wanted to be like James Dean first and foremost, but in his head to be a great actor means all you have to do, is get cast in a leading role. Well, no one wanted to cast Wiseau in anything. “Okay,” thought Wiseau. “I make big Hollywood movie myself.” This would’ve gone fine (especially since he has an endless supply of money that no one knows where it came from), except for the tiny detail that Wiseau doesn’t know the first thing about screenwriting, directing, cinematography, or even how to memorize lines. So he does all of it poorly because that is the best he can do. He only writes one draft of the screenplay. (There’s an unspoken rule of screenwriting that every first draft of a script is unusable, and the screenwriter should write as many drafts as he feels he needs to.) Onset, Tommy is cruel to the other actors because Stanley Kubrick was hard on his actors and that resulted in classics like “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Shining”. He can’t decide if he wants to shoot his movie on film or digitally, so he buys a professional film camera and a professional digital camera, then proceeds to put them right next to each other and shoot with both at the same time, then in editing going back and forth from uncentered film shots to uncentered digital shots. And finally, he doesn’t memorize his lines and every scene requires a seemingly endless amount of takes. This is precisely why “The Room” is so bad. You get the most misinformed, mysterious, but kind-hearted man on the planet to make a film, and this is the result.

What makes this movie so entertaining and so timeless is Wiseau’s heartfelt passion. During the two weeks, they could keep it in the theatre, “The Room” made $1,800 against a $10,000,000 budget. Today, “The Room” is still celebrated all over the country and plays in theatres fairly often in major cities. There’s even a chance you could run into Tommy Wiseau at one of these screenings, as he unofficially tours along with his film. Needless to say, the movie has earned back millions more than its original budget. For a film that had nothing going for it, everything worked out pretty well. I think this story deserved to be celebrated as the film has been. “The Disaster Artist” taught me that despite it being one of the weirdest success stories of our time, a success is a success. Never be afraid to go after your passions. You could be a legend for just trying.

Photo Credit: Chris Devers

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