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Movie Review: 'The Disaster Artist'

James Franco captures the sublime story of Tommy Wiseau and 'The Room.'

By Sean PatrickPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
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Pathos—a quality that evokes pity or sadness.

Pathos seemed to be the defining characteristic of Tommy Wiseau’s abysmal debut feature The Room. The film evoked pathos because it was quite pitiably terrible in every fashion. The film was/is complete and utter nonsense from beginning to end with the witless Wiseau creating a star vehicle for himself despite his complete lack of talent and then directing the whole mess despite his complete lack experience and talent.

Something strange has happened over the years with The Room. No, it hasn’t somehow miraculously improved with time. Rather, it remains terrible, but not pitiable. The film has become a genuine and quite unexpected hit. Fans, yes, real fans, have emerged not to defend the quality of the film but to defend the remarkable experience they’ve had in discovering the film. People quite unabashedly love The Room and by extension its bizarre creator.

Enter The Disaster Artist, a new comic take on the creation of this once pathos-laden effort. The Disaster Artist does not seek to mock the pathos of The Room and Tommy Wiseau but rather, to get to the heart of the genuine side of the appreciation of this once pitiable effort. The Disaster Artist succeeds by reveling in the genuine success enjoyed by the film since it was so poorly crafted and somehow slunk into our collective pop culture in 2002.

The Disaster Artist stars James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. Franco’s Wiseau is a fearless weirdo, probably because he doesn’t’ realize other people find him weird. He has what looks to be a stiff wig of long black hair, an inexplicable accent that he refuses to acknowledge and is deeply paranoid of anyone asking about his life and especially his age. He goes so far as to warn his new friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) to never speak of him in public, never talk about where his money comes from and never acknowledge the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau.

For his part, Greg Sestero is a shy kid who wants to break out of his shell and become a movie star. Unfortunately, he suffers an almost pathological shyness until he meets Tommy. Through Tommy, Greg doesn’t necessarily come out of his shell, but he does get the chance to move to Los Angeles and despite their shared, repeated failure in trying to make it in Hollywood, together they still manage to make and star in a movie, one that has gone down in history in its own very unique way.

Directed by James Franco, The Disaster Artist is a comedy that gets most of its laughs through recreating real life incident. Leave it to Tommy Wiseau to have lived a life where you don’t have to change a word and you have a glorious comedy of weird ambition. The Disaster Artist is based on Greg Sestero’s memoir of the same title, and while some incidents have been altered, for the most part, the movie faithfully recreates the book and gleans most of its laughs simply from things Greg reports Tommy having said or done while making the movie.

In fact, the biggest laughs in The Disaster Artist come straight from recreating actual scenes from The Room only with James and Dave Franco as Tommy and Greg, and well known players such as Nathan Fielder, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael and Ari Graynor taking on the roles of the mostly unknown and unremembered players from The Room. Yes, there are still laughs to be rung from the behind the scenes players on The Room, like a script supervisor played by Seth Rogan and a director of photography played by comedian Paul Scheer, but they too are merely regurgitating incidents from Sestero’s book to great comic effect.

This is not me blasting The Disaster Artist for unoriginality, not at all. The recreations of The Room and the bringing to life of Sestero’s remarkably funny anecdotes are sublime. I love the way that director Franco takes us back in time to capture this remarkable story. It never feels like mere mimicry, it feels like we’re watching something real just as it was springing into being and that is a remarkable and wonderfully, awkwardly funny experience.

I have long loved and admired the ambition of failed filmmakers. There is something wonderful in the failure of people like Tommy Wiseau. It’s the story of Icarus and his melting wings, Sisyphus and his boulder, failures that become success if only as an example to others of what failure looks like. Then again, has Tommy really failed? As bad as The Room truly is, we learn from The Disaster Artist that the film is somehow profitable and though it’s an ironic love, the film is beloved by millions.

The Disaster Artist is clever in the way it revels in the badness of Tommy Wiseau, in his failed vision, his aching terribleness, while also finding pleasure in seeing Tommy somehow succeed. Not succeed in the way he thought he would succeed, but success in a way that no one could predict. Tommy is no longer pathetic, no longer a figure of pity. He’s still quite odd but he is also now one of the more remarkable and strange success stories in Hollywood history and The Disaster Artist manages to have it both ways in the same way Tommy has, by documenting something sad and pathetic and treating it like something happy and successful and having both of those things ring true.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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