The Disaster Artist

I have never seen The Room, the film directed by Tommy Wiseau in 2003, the production of which is the subject of the film The Disaster Artist.  From the clips I’ve seen it looks as awful as its reputation.  Apparently, however, it resonated with enough people that it became a cult hit, one of those films that are recognized as so bad they’re good.

The Disaster Artist is based on a memoir by Greg Sestero, here played by Dave Franco, who co-starred in The Room and was Wiseau’s best friend.  Wiseau is played by James Franco who also directed.  When the story begins Sestero is an extremely self-conscious acting student.  The film opens as he’s doing a scene and it is painful to watch.  Afterwards Wiseau does a scene that is just the opposite; it’s way out there.  He’s writhing on the stage and climbing light poles.  The performance is also awful—the acting coach doesn’t even offer him notes—but in a different way.

Sestero is intrigued and approaches Wiseau about doing a scene together for the class.  This kicks off a strong friendship that eventually results in The Room.  They bond over watching James Dean movies and talking about their dreams of stardom and they agree to support and push each other.

The Disaster Artist is about following dreams, never giving up and being true to your artistic vision even if that vision is pretty much crap.  To me comparisons with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood are inevitable as are comparisons between Tommy Wiseau and Ed Wood.  Wood stumbled into posthumous fame and Wiseau was lucky enough to do his serendipitous stumbling when he could benefit from it.  But the plots and the messages of these two films are too identical to ignore.  You could almost regard The Disaster artist as a remake.

The acting is good.  The Franco brothers acquit themselves well, which is what you would expect since both of them are very talented actors.  The supporting cast is good too but the movie is really about Wiseau and Sestero.

The reason I couldn’t get into the story is because of the character of Tommy Wiseau.  And that’s because not much is really known about the filmmaker.  Nobody knows exactly how old he is, where he was born, and especially how he became wealthy enough to self-finance his movie.  So we have this eccentric character at the center of the story and no way to get to him or his motivations.  He’s a cypher and what’s more he’s so disagreeable and frankly cruel at times it’s hard to like him.

The irony is that the one thing that Sestero struggled with as an actor, self-confidence is the one thing that Wiseau could help him overcome.  At the end of the film Sestero is a decent, although not great, actor.  So while I can’t understand Sestero’s initial attraction to Wiseau, I do understand his loyalty later.

There’s a scene where Wiseau accosts the producer Judd Apatow, playing himself, in a restaurant and starts doing Shakespeare.  Apatow, finally fed up, tells Wiseau that it will never happen for him.  To tell you the truth, in the same situation I’d have said the same thing.  Today Tommy Wiseau is a working director and producer.  So I guess that shows you what I and Judd Apatow know.



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