The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is a comedy about the making of The Room, which is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, if not the worst. What makes The Room such a cult favorite isn't its pervasive ineptitude, it's that the ineptitude dramatically undermines a story that is clearly intended to be sincere and heartfelt. No matter how awful it is and it's truly, truly bad you can't look away from it. Many of us have felt compelled to see it more than once. The reason why The Disaster Artist is a great movie is because it doesn't mock The Room, choosing instead to celebrate the passion behind it, however misguided the execution.

Dave Franco plays aspiring actor Greg Sestero. He becomes fascinated by a fellow student in his acting class, the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Tommy has dyed black hair, speaks in an unplaceable European accent, refuses to divulge any personal information about himself, and believes he is the next James Dean or Marlon Brando. The two strike up an unlikely friendship.

With their careers going nowhere, Tommy decides to write a movie for them to star in together. Flush with a seemingly endless amount of cash, the origins of which nobody can determine, he puts together The Room. Production does not go smoothly. Tommy, who casts himself in the lead, can't remember his lines, much less say them convincingly. The script supervisor (Seth Rogen, in a wonderful supporting role) doesn't understand why he chooses to shoot on an alley set made to look exactly like the real alley right outside the studio. An actress gripes that her character's cancer diagnosis is dramatically mentioned in one scene, then never brought up again. It all goes downhill from there.

Based on Sestero's book of the same name, The Disaster Artist recreates moments from The Room with jaw-dropping accuracy. It ends with several minutes of side-by-side scene comparisons, just to prove the point. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer) effectively condenses a lot of The Room trivia into a tight plot that hits all the important bases. The film's bizarre production foibles, quirky promotional methods, and eventual rise to cult status are accounted for.

At the same time, The Disaster Artist goes well beyond simply recreating the mess that became a cinematic phenomenon. The real focus is on the friendship between Greg and Tommy. The latter honestly believes that he's helping himself and his friend to establish acting careers by making The Room, even going so far as to make his pal the co-lead. That's because Greg, no matter how insane or inexplicable things become, never stops believing in Tommy. Put another way, Greg needs someone to believe in, and Tommy needs to be believed. They're a perfect match, so they bond in a way that's life-changing for both.

Dave Franco is excellent as Greg, hinting at how the character's insecurities draw him to his flamboyant partner. If he lacks the ruthless drive necessary to make it in Hollywood, he is well aware that teaming with a bold partner can compensate. As good as he is, it's obviously the other Franco who steals the show. James (who also directed) flawlessly captures Tommy Wiseau. You could even say he outright channels him. Beyond that and this is why his performance is one of the year's best he finds and conveys the emotions of a man who intentionally tries to be unknowable. James Franco nails the mysterious qualities of the guy he's portraying, while still indicating that Tommy is wounded by criticism, longs for meaningful relationships, and is driven by an intense need to express through art what he cannot (or will not) through words.

The Disaster Artist deserves to stand alongside Tim Burton's Ed Wood as an appreciation of someone whose creative enthusiasm somehow managed to shine through their total lack of talent. This is a hilariously funny yet emotionally grounded exploration of how life's failures can become successes when you've got a friend and fellow dreamer by your side. If you've seen The Room, you'll appreciate how spot-on and non-exaggerated this film is. If you haven't seen Tommy Wiseau's twisted epic, prepare to discover your new obsession.

( out of four)

The Disaster Artist is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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