Sunday 26 August 2018

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

A comedy and drama about an exceptional character self-producing a horrible film, The Disaster Artist is a worthy homage to unique individuality.

In San Francisco, aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets enigmatic fellow performer Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The men strike up a friendship, although Wiseau reveals little about himself. He has a strange accent, claims to be from New Orleans, and refuses to reveal his age or the source of his seemingly impressive wealth. The two men move to Los Angeles, where Wiseau just happens to have an apartment, to pursue their common acting dream.

Greg's good looks help him find an agent, but the roles don't follow for either man. Undeterred, Wiseau decides to write, finance, direct and star in his own production, titled The Room, an incomprehensible drama and romance about betrayal and lost love. He assembles a ramshackle crew including script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen) and cinematographer Raphael (Paul Scheer), and marginal acting talent including actresses Juliette (Ari Graynor) and Carolyn (Jacki Weaver). When Greg starts spending time with his new girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie), a chasm develops between the two men, further compounding Tommy's erratic behaviour.

The Room (2003) is considered one of the worst movies ever made, and as such has achieved admirable cult status. The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco, is an adaptation of Sestero's book, chronicling his experiences with Wiseau. In many ways, this is the prototypical American story, the underdog outsider who plays by his own rules, faces adversity and obstacles at every turn, pushes ahead regardless, takes his creative lumps, but unexpectedly emerges victorious after paying the necessary price.

In a compact 103 minutes, Franco delivers a sterling film. The Disaster Artist is brisk, and draws phenomenal energy from Wiseau's character, at once impenetrable and irresistible. His passion is authentic, his friendship genuine, his accent just about incomprehensible. Franco brings Wiseau to life as a rounded person worth knowing, a marvellous example of singularity contributing to society's rich fabric.

The film is neatly divided into three parts, and each works well. The opening introduces the characters and their initial interactions in San Francisco, including discovering a shared appreciation for all things James Dean. The middle segment focuses on the struggles to make it in Los Angeles, the city of mostly unfulfilled dreams. The final and funniest act features the making of The Room, as Wiseau strides into a world of movie creation he knows nothing about, throws money at everything and haphazardly creates a masterpiece in his own mind.

On the screen, James Franco disappears into Wiseau and delivers a wonderful acting performance, free of irony or self-awareness and yet full of humour. Franco nails the deadpan self-belief of a man marching to the tune of his own drummer.

The Room was not the film Wiseau intended, but he nonetheless achieved his dream. Thankfully, he proved to be both a disaster creator and an artist. In the often stale filmmaking world, Wiseau's off-kilter brand of clueless determination is a welcome bolt of lunacy.

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