The Disaster Artist
Edwin Arnaudin: So Bruce, you’re not fond of the James Franco/Seth Rogen branch of the Judd Apatow family tree and you haven’t seen Tommy Wiseau’s notoriously bad film The Room. Why the heck would you watch The Disaster Artist, Franco’s dramatization of the making of The Room?
Bruce Steele: I’m not a fan of dumb “guys acting stupid” comedies, like Neighbors, but I loved This Is the End, Rogen’s last venture into making fun of Hollywood. So I know he and Franco have a knack for self-mockery. I doubt the appeal of The Disaster Artist will be as broad as The End, but for the curious, like me, it does not disappoint.
Edwin: Representing the pro-Apatow-from-the-get-go contingency, I was likewise pleased. As for The Room, I made it about 40 minutes in before bailing, but had a feeling that approaching it from a behind-the-scenes angle would be the way to go. I can only imagine the joys it will bring The Room faithful.
Bruce: I’m pretty sure we saw it with a lot of Room fans. For them, it’s like The Man Who Invented Christmas — a gradual unfolding of all the moments they love: the water bottle, the football game, etc. — from the horrid mess that 2003 movie is known to be. I’ve never had any interest in The Room, but its mystique is fascinating, and Franco is mesmerizing as Wiseau.
Edwin: One of the film’s strengths is that those inside jokes work well for the uninitiated. The smart, witty script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the team behind 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) has a lot to do with that accessibility, but I agree that Franco’s committed, hilarious performance is the true open door. Is this his best work to date?
Bruce: It’s up there, certainly. He’s always a hoot yet never a caricature. You always believe he’s That Guy, the untethered egoist we’ve all met, both admired and disdained for his lack of inhibition but completely convinced of his own incomprehensible world view. I think Franco really related to Wiseau on that level, don’t you?
Edwin: Maybe a little bit. The difference is Franco has actually created admirable art both onscreen and in literature with his short story cycle Palo Alto — plus he possesses self-awareness and, as you noted, doesn’t shy from self-parody. I see his interest in Wiseau more as a way to poke fun at the public’s perception of him.
Bruce: Good point. He’s more like The Hit-and-Miss Artist, because he has genuine talent even if some of his projects are head-scratchers. But his performance here is super, and his direction, actor-focused, fits the subject matter.
Edwin: He also has an impressive lineup of collaborators likewise dedicated to making an entertaining film. As Wisseau’s friend/roommate/co-star Greg Sestero, Franco’s brother Dave shows a versatility only previously hinted at. Rogen, Paul Scheer, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie and an incredibly goofy Josh Hutcherson are also great — there’s no weak link here.
Bruce: I agree, it’s a fun cast, having a lot of fun. Wiseau even makes a priceless appearance, if you sit through the end credits (and you should). But while we’re heaping praise, I have to clarify: this is not a great, stand-alone movie. It’s a fine, entertaining behind-the-scenes companion piece to The Room, whether you’ve seen it or not. It’s not even a lesson in how to fail into fame, since we learn that Wiseau had millions of dollars to promote his failure rather spectacularly. Most awful, undistributed movies just disappear quietly, as they should. This is a one-off, about another one-off.
Edwin: I disagree. I think The Disaster Artist IS great and will have a long, happy life with all sorts of audiences. It’s essentially Ed Wood with a more impenetrable central figure and ranks high on my list of the best movies about moviemaking.
Bruce: I think it has a short shelf life, and I doubt The Room will be long remembered either. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most movies have a short shelf life, and Franco’s performance makes this one worth seeing for now. But I don’t think it’s really about moviemaking. It’s about the making of one especially terrible movie under circumstances unlikely to be repeated. Interesting, but self-limited.
Edwin: We’ll see. I’m with you on the “perfect storm” rarity of The Room’s creation, which makes The Disaster Artist its own kind of unicorn — but I see its future and that of The Room as a perpetual cycle of curiosity that will keep both in the cultural conscience for some time. I give it an A-minus.
Bruce: I will grant that The Disaster Artist captures one enduring truth: the inexplicable allure of moviemaking, even under dire conditions, for countless talentless dreamers. “The worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else,” one actress says on set. If La La Land was a fantasy of talent and inevitable success, The Disaster Artist is the flip side, the purgatory of Hollywood wannabes. Sad but true. In sympathy, I’ll be generous with a B-plus.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse.