Schadenfreude — The Disaster Artist Review

I first heard about The Room while I was in South Korea. Labeled as one of the worst movies ever filmed, it had somehow attracted a huge following that included sold-out midnight viewings.

To this day, I have not been able to get myself through one complete viewing of the original film. It’s an assault on the senses and a failure by every standard metric I hold regarding filmmaking.

It’s bad. Real bad.

The acting is subpar, the dialogue needs heavy editing, and the threadbare plot just sort of… happens.

Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, producer, and star of the film plays Johnny, a man who eventually finds out his fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend Mark.

Supporting characters weave in and out of the movie, adding to the conflict and drama with the subtlety of a runaway Mac truck backing its trailer through a warehouse. There’s Denny, Johnny’s teenage friend, who is in debt to a violent drug dealer, and Peter the psychologist who learns about the secret affair from both Tommy and Mark. Lisa, the fiancee, tells Johnny she’s pregnant, admits the pregnancy was a lie to cover up her affair with Mark, and then moves in with Mark.

Betrayed, Tommy decides to take his own life.

On paper, it seems a bit Shakespearean, but the film is a technical trainwreck rumbling down the tracks straight at you. Look away for a second, and you’ll miss a sudden turn or twist, like a needle skipping over the verse on a record. A dialogue between a mother and daughter takes a swift turn when the mother drops her diagnosis of breast cancer. At one point during a conversation between Tommy and his lover, he suddenly and emphatically shouts, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”

And the overall production values seem counter-productive. Wiseau opted to film scenes in front of a green screen that could have been shot for much cheaper just by going outside, and he even had his own voice dubbed for the movie. Get this — Wiseau was his own voice actor.

So when I say it’s an assault on the senses, I mean the movie flies in the face of everything I believe makes for a good movie. And it doesn’t play as a parody or satire. It seems like an earnest attempt at making a film, and one wonders how it ever got made the way it did.

Which is probably why Greg Sestero, the actor who played Mark, wrote a book about the experience that led to a movie based on it.

The Disaster Artist (the movie) centers on the relationship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and his best friend Greg (Dave Franco) who find a common bond as aspiring actors. They team up and move to Los Angeles to take Hollywood by storm.

In some ways, the pair couldn’t be more opposite. Though they both can’t act, Greg looks the part and immediately books an agent after settling in. Meanwhile, Tommy struggles through auditions because of his accent, and his penchant for Shakespeare ruins an impromptu meeting with a Hollywood executive caught off-guard at a restaurant.

Neither of them land the ultimate gig, though Greg finds love with Amber (Alison Brie). Tommy, facing the potential loss of a friendship and feeling the failures of trying to break into the industry, takes up Greg’s suggestion of creating their own movie by cranking out a script and running full steam into production.

Thanks to Wiseau’s deep pockets and despite his lack of industry knowledge, the two manage to strike a deal for equipment and a studio. Within weeks, they have a cast and crew ready to create the next box office smash.

The production hits several snags as obstacles come up. Tommy’s relationship with Greg sours after Wiseau takes offense with Greg’s growing relationship with Amber, viewing it as a betrayal of sorts. Wiseau also takes umbrage at the various comments and criticisms he finds on the camera documenting The Room’s production.

The issues create a tense work environment, leading Tommy to fire the original crew and take a trip with Greg to San Francisco to film a new scene that wasn’t in the original script. The van stops at a park where Tommy hops out with a football. He then directs Greg in a scene mimicking a conversation they had before the pair left to Los Angeles.

Seeing the scene as a twisted version of what actually happened, Greg turns off the acting and directs the confrontation as he asks Tommy for the truth regarding his birthplace, the funding for the movie, and Tommy’s actual age.

The friendship broken, Greg gets into theater acting with a role in The Death of a Salesman. Meanwhile, Tommy edits the film and prepares it for a big Hollywood premiere.

Thematically, the movie has a voice from start to finish. We’re introduced to Tommy as Greg’s counter during an actor’s workshop. Greg’s performance is critiqued for being devoid of enthusiasm and passion, but Tommy takes the stage and captures everyone’s attention through an over-the-top interpretation of Tennesse Williams’ character Stanley shouting “Stella!” over and over.

From there, Tommy is described as a Frankenstein, vampire, and villain by other characters who judge him by his appearance, though Wiseau at one point says he is the Beauty to Greg’s Beast. The treatment has an effect — Tommy appears on set almost naked before the crew shoots a sex scene he wrote to flaunt his body. When he hops into bed with his costar, he points out her flaws and pimples before he berates the crew for their comments caught on tape criticizing him.

Though Tommy creates the splintering rift that will eventually push Greg away, Sesteros tries to keep the friendship intact despite losing an opportunity to work with Bryan Cranston and his relationship with Amber. Greg is humble, encouraging, and loyal, and he’s played with endearing charm by the younger Franco brother.

But it’s the elder brother’s movie, as actor and director. James Franco inhabits the character of Tommy Wiseau fully. Undaunted during the filming of The Room, Franco’s Tommy is focused on creating an unintended disaster as the effects of his real-world relationships influence the direction of it. Franco’s Tommy becomes a villain, taking instances from his life and flipping the script on those who have harmed in by distorting the history.

But in the end, when the entire theater viewing the first screening of The Room begins to roar in laughter, Tommy comes to his senses. That’s when we see that this Beast has a heart, and the target of ridicule is a human being after all.

In the Disaster Artist, Franco’s Wiseau appropriates the conflicts and drama in his own life to create a story where he is the hero, much like the villain in a Bond story creates a narrative and justifies their actions for world domination. Betrayed and hurt by relationships, it takes the power of friendship to bring the best friends back together, but this time it’s a mutual effort between the characters.

The Disaster Artist (2017)
Directed by: James Franco
Screenplay: Scott neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, and Megan Mullally

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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