Monday, 4 December 2017

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)



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Some films go down as the greatest of their era. Some go down as the greatest of any era. Some go down as the worst of their era, and then trickle down into being the worst of any era. But some films, a rare few, manage to find a middle ground: Something that by all rationality should go down as one of the worst but is instead remembered as something great. There’s been quite a few examples of this in my lifetime alone. The all-round shoddy production values of the Birdemic films have kept coathangers in everyone’s hands since the first one’s release in 2010. M. Night Shyamalan, for many years, was regarded as one of the absolute worst, with such crowning jewels of hilariously awful as The Happening and After Earth under his belt. Hell, depending on who you ask, even the Twilight series enters into this realm of reputation. But for my money, no singular bad film has given me more joy than Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum opus The Room. And apparently, I’m not the only one, seeing as the film’s reputation has grown so much over the last few years that we now have a Hollywood production all about the making of the infamous classic. But how does it hold up? This is The Disaster Artist.


The plot: Struggling actor Greg (Dave Franco), on a whim, encounters the eccentric and likewise trying-to-make-it actor Tommy (James Franco). After finding no luck in Hollywood through the traditional audition process, they decide to set out and make their own film. As the cast and crew are brought in, and Tommy’s attitudes on set start to cause tensions, the resulting production would go on to make an even bigger impact on the world than any of them could have ever predicted.

I’ve gone to see The Room several times at the cinema. One of my locals has interactive screenings that it has maintained on a monthly basis for four years. Part of the festivities include an impression contest where people head up onstage to give their best imitation of Tommy Wiseau. I bring all this up because, over the process of those screenings, I have seen a lot of people do these impressions; hell, I’ve even done them in these contests. James Franco doesn’t do an impression. Watching him, it’s hard to separate the fact that he is an actor playing this person because he manages to channel that one key aspect of the filmmaker that so many others failed to: His truly unique on-screen presence. Part of what makes The Room so enjoyable as a bad film is that Wiseau’s performance is so strange, so sporadic, so unbelievable, that it draws people in regardless of how much he mumbles every other word. James absolutely nails that, making everything from the weird vocal tics to the possibly-distant connection to the English language to even the more dramatic moments between him and Dave Franco feel vital to watch.

Speaking of Dave Franco, he is likewise pitch-perfect in his portrayal of Greg Sestero, although not quite for the same reasons as James. He honestly has far more energy to his existence than the real-life Greg, but when acting opposite James, it never becomes apparent that these two are related by blood. As is constantly mentioned in the film-within-a-film, Greg’s character is the best friend of Tommy’s character and that is precisely the kind of chemistry these two create. Beyond our main two, it’s recognizable name city up in here so let’s quickly go over what I can: Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are very engaging as the on-set peanut gallery, otherwise known as the script supervisor and DP respectively, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver and Zac Efron fill their real-world roles very nicely, Efron in particular is crazy effective as Chris-R, Ari Graynor as the actress playing the main love interest works very well as she tries to work through all the strangeness going on, and the opening parade of cameos ranging from J. J. Abrams to Kevin Smith to Keegan-Michael Key help set an atmosphere of true appreciation for the weirder side of indie cinema.

When dealing with a film that is best-known for being unintentionally hilarious, it makes sense that this film about that film aims for comedy. Most of it is generated by James Franco pretty much being Wiseau in all his awkwardness, along with his interactions and spats with the cast and crew and pretty much anyone he encounters. It delves into quite a few of The Room’s most infamous moments, like Johnny loudly proclaiming that he did NAAAAAAAAHT his fiancĂ©, or characters passing around a football while wearing tuxedos in a back alley for no given reason, or Lisa’s mother declaring that she has breast cancer in a subplot that is never revisited. However, when the film delves into the specifics of the film, it never comes across as mean-spirited. It presents the oddities of the production as what they are, oddities, rather than pointing fingers and going “You made a bad film, so you should feel bad”. Echoing Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, another film about a cult director known for insanely kitschy products, the script by frequent John Green adaptors Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber keep Tommy as a creative mind well in focus. He’s erratic and carries a massive ego on his back, but he also has a passion and drive that isn’t that unusual in the realms of direction. The film even namechecks Hitchcock and Kubrick, highlighting their own infamous conduct on film sets, to show that for as bizarre as the man is, Tommy Wiseau’s behaviour isn’t that far removed from who are considered to be the greatest filmmakers of all time.

The reasons for all of this are rather simple: Hatred, real bile-in-the-system hatred, isn’t what made this film go into the annals of legend. Enjoyably bad films aren’t the kind that hideously offend every person who sees them (well, maybe it offends their sense of taste, but not usually more than that) or get people to boycott the indie cinemas that host the midnight screenings. They are the films where all the wrong pieces fall into the right places, resulting in a film that manages to entertain in spite of itself. There’s an entire culture surrounding enjoyment of the objectively awful, quite a bit is evident in the film’s cast. Scheer and fellow co-star Jason Mantzoukas co-host a film podcast called How Did This Get Made? all about bad movies, even featuring an episode about The Room. Sharon Stone, who has a brief cameo in this film, is a reigning queen of schlock cinema. She literally has an entire chapter in the book of bad films devoted to her, something that she has always taken in stride. Translating cult appeal for a film to a mainstream audience always has its drawbacks; there’s no guarantee that two people will look at the same film and be able to appreciate it on the same level, especially if that level is one that the filmmaker never intended to reach. This very easily could have become a film just for the fans of the subject. But instead, because of how much it delves into Tommy’s own mannerisms, his drive and ultimately just what makes the film so intriguing, it effectively creates drama, comedy and even a pinch of tragedy that rings true regardless of experience with the original film. Because within every pore of The Disaster Artist’s workings is a genuine love for a film that may not have set out to do so but managed to bring happiness to audiences all over the world.

Honestly, outside of fears relating to how well this film would hold up on its own, there was another worry I had going into this. Having watched most of Point Grey’s productions over the last three years, I have come to rely on them for insanely well-utilized soundtrack choices. These are the guys who always scratch my itch for effective uses of music in film. Knowing how star-studded this production is and how niche the subject matter surrounding it is, I actually thought this would bear the exception in regards to soundtrack. Boy, was I wrong on that one and it starts in a weirdly natural place: A meme. Early on, we see and hear James Franco as Tommy singing along to Never Gonna Give You Up, itself in the annals of unintentional humour through how the Internet turned it into a running joke. It being matched up against a filmmaker who, through The Room and the online sharing of clips from it, became a meme in his own right is the level of ideal soundtrack I’ve come to expect from these guys. And it doesn’t even stop there. Rob Base’s It Takes Two as a backdrop for Tommy and Greg first arriving in Hollywood, Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head takes on a surreal literalness in its use against a film that itself people can’t stop thinking about, and Corona’s Rhythm Of The Night becomes a kind of character anthem for Tommy. For a filmmaker who by all appearances seems to be in tune to his own rhythm and wound up acting on impulse more than anything else, it fits very well and James Franco singing it in character always brought a smile to my face.

All in all, this is the kind of film that The Room deserves to have made about it. The cast is both well-recognized and pitch-perfect in their casting, the soundtrack once again lives up to the Point Grey standard, the humour doesn’t shy away from the obvious faults of the film-within-the-film without coming across as hateful in any real sense, and the writing overall gives a real sense that this is one-of-a-kind film made by a one-of-a-kind human being that people should know about. This is why I’ve always advocated for enjoying cinema regardless of its objective quality: Because only through a collection of astoundingly bad ideas could arise a film so impossibly enjoyable that people would love it enough to make this kind of film honouring it. It’s cult cinema culture for the mainstream crowd, and by all accounts, it’s one of the best attempts at that dichotomy that has ever been produced.

It ranks higher than It, as this managed to do an even greater service to a film that I have even more adoration for. The 1990 It miniseries may have been a staple of my childhood, but The Room is a cornerstone of my understanding of film as a whole; it being done this amount of justice is even more gratifying to witness. However, even with how outright hilarious this film is in all the right ways, it still doesn’t measure up to the true masterwork that is War For The Planet Of The Apes. No matter how entertaining a bad film is, there will always be a part of me that hungers for the genuinely brilliant.

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