Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

It's been a while since I've done a movie review and I just saw The Disaster Artist last night - so here we are! A movie review, and not even a superfluous one at that.

The Disaster Artist tells the story of Tommy Wiseau (played by James Franco) and his best friend/fellow actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), as they try to make it in the crazy world of show business. Tommy has a mysterious past: no one knows how old he is, where he's from (he claims to be from New Orleans despite an unidentified/unidentifiable Eastern European accent), or where his vast wealth comes from.

Tommy and Greg meet in Jean Shelton's acting class, where Jean (in a great cameo from Melanie Griffith) offers both actors feedback after poorly executed scenes. Despite the fact that Tommy's rendition of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire was simply him shouting, "Stella!" over and over again while climbing the walls and writhing on the floor, Greg is impressed with Tommy's fearlessness. He asks Tommy to do a scene with him. Tommy encourages Greg to overcome his stage fright, and their friendship is born.

Together they move to L.A., staying in an apartment Tommy owns but rarely visits. They go through the various steps of becoming professional actors: taking headshots, going to auditions, and (at least in Greg's case) finding an agent - the great Iris Burton (another great cameo, this one by Sharon Stone), who is famous for representing child actors like River Phoenix, Kirsten Dunst, Drew Barrymore, and Fred Savage.

But despite all that, Tommy and Greg both struggle to get cast. Greg laments that maybe they should just make their own movie. Tommy, with his "bottomless" bank account, thinks that's a great idea, and writes a screenplay for The Room. When Tommy makes the unbelievable decision to purchase, rather than rent, cameras and equipment, he is given access to a studio and some of the best technicians in show business to help him make his movie. And, as history has shown us, that awful, incoherent movie went on to become a cult film, playing to sold out crowds.

The Disaster Artist does for The Room what Ed Wood did for Plan 9 From Outer Space - the "so bad it's good" movie that was already loved by many gets elevated and understood at a new level. The story behind the movie helps you to appreciate, even admire, the movie, regardless of its inept writing and poor execution. In fact, I'm a fan in general of "making of" movies, like Shadow of a Vampire (portraying the making of Nosferatu) and RKO 281 (portraying the making of Citizen Kane); regardless of whether the movie they portray is a masterpiece (as Nosferatu and Kane are considered to be) or garbage (like The Room and Plan 9) these making-of films are like love letters to the original movies and to cinema in general.

I'm about halfway through the book on which The Disaster Artist is based, written by Greg Sestero and author Tom Bissell, both of whom have cameos in this movie. (Also, be sure to hang around after the credits for a great scene with the real Tommy Wiseau.) So it's difficult for me not to compare the book and the movie, and - as is so often the case - feel bummed that they cut out some great parts from the book. For the most part, I felt this was a good adaptation of the source material, and fit a lot of Greg's and Tom's insights into The Room and Tommy himself into the movie. The beginning, though, felt a bit rushed - I didn't feel like it established why Greg and Tommy became friends, and why Greg was willing to do and give up so much to make Tommy happy. But the actors in the film all did an excellent job at bringing the material to life. James Franco was incredible as Tommy, and Dave Franco perfectly captured Greg's sweet, naïve charm.

Probably the part I'm most bummed they cut out was Greg's story about the movie Home Alone. In the film version, Greg shares that he became interested in acting because Home Alone changed his life. It's a throwaway line that makes Greg look like a lovable idiot. But in the book, he explains what he means by that, and it's actually a really sweet story. After Greg saw Home Alone, he went home and wrote a screenplay for Home Alone 2. Greg, being a child at the time (he's about my age), probably didn't write a professional-quality screenplay, but nonetheless, he found the address for John Hughes's production company, and sent his screenplay in. Not long after, he got his screenplay back in the mail, along with a note from John Hughes, telling him: "Believe in yourself, have patience, and always follow your heart." He says after reading that note, he found his calling.

Having seen The Room helps to understand many of the funny moments in The Disaster Artist. I'm fairly certain the others in theatre with me had never seen The Room because I was often the only laughing. But regardless of whether you've seen The Room, I highly recommend checking The Disaster Artist out. And if you're a fan of The Room or just bad movies in general, I also highly recommend reading the book.

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