SXSW 2017 Review: ‘The Disaster Artist’ – What Would Ed Wood Do?

The Disaster Artist follows the structure of a Hollywood movie, only Tommy Wiseau is not an underdog. He is not here to make Hollywood see his genius. He’s the screwup who never learns but succeeds anyway. So more like real life. It’s also not a Joseph Campbell hero’s journey because no one ever refuses the call. They just plow ahead no matter what.

Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class. They go to LA together but after months of bad auditions, Tommy decides to make his own movie.

Bookending the film with celebrity testimonials, and then side by side comparisons between Disaster Artist scenes and real The Room scenes, is brilliant. It gives you context to start and really makes you feel like you’ve seen the best parts of The Room, although I’m told it’s all great.

The Disaster Artist is a love letter to Tommy and Greg’s bromance. Tommy would be a caricature if he weren’t real, but Greg is still a genuine guy who goes with his eccentric friend and believes in him, will even make sacrifices for this crazy plan. For the most part Tommy is fun and harmless. He somehow has the money to pay everyone so why not? Mistreating crew is not cool but real professionals confront him. And he manipulates Greg at one point but has a redemptive arc in the end. The point is Tommy is as melodramatic in real life as The Room is.

As ridiculous as the whole story is, it gets genuinely emotional when Greg confronts Tommy. Tommy may be unwavering but it puts a strain on their friendship. The movie takes that seriously, and as a chronicle of events, The Disaster Artist presents the making of The Room as a celebration of absurdity.

Even before they begin producing The Room they are paying homage to it. The awkward football toss will obviously pay off later, but just seeing James Franco lob a football ineptly is funny slapstick anyway. Every scene in The Disaster Artist is an event: playing football, dancing, shooting headshots, meeting Greg’s mom. Once they begin filming The Room, every scene is a set piece within a set piece. But that’s all based on scenes fans of The Room have seen. The stunts Wiseau pulls before then are crazy and the montages of Wiseau writing the screenplay and casting The Room are funny.

There’s an element of “I can’t believe this is happening but I’m being paid so whatever.” The script supervisor (Seth Rogen) feeds Wiseau the ridiculous lines he can’t remember. I bet James Franco’s dick sock nude scene goes on longer than Wiseau’s is on screen in The Room because we’re watching him between takes.

Dave Franco’s beard looks fake. The schedule of Disaster Artist certainly wouldn’t allow real beard growth and shaving, but it’s glaring in a movie about a film with glaring (yet sincere) incompetence. Did Juliette Danielle really hang out on set for scenes she wasn’t in? I mean maybe everyone did. It certainly gives Ari Graynor more scenes to be in and that’s always a good thing.

In 18 years of living in LA I’ve never seen The Room. I sure remember the billboard though. It’s easy to get the references in The Disaster Artist. The audience cheered for every character or scene re-enactment but even without their guidance you’ll be able to tell.

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