"The Disaster Artist" (2017) Review
Full Disclosure: It's probably worth mentioning up front that I got into a free preview screening of The Disaster Artist, which is how I'm able to write a review and post it well in advance of its December 8th wide release date. I was also given some stickers and a pen as part of the whole event. Okay? Okay. On to the review.
Here's the thing about reviewing comedy films. It's really hard.
It's harder than reviewing just about any other type of film I can think of. Mostly because when you walk out of a movie, you try to think of specific scenes and moments that you can mentally note for your own writing to give people an idea of what they're in for. In general, I think it's easier to describe a dramatic scene without giving away its stakes. As for comedy, it becomes a trick of trying not to explain a joke that a reader hasn't actually seen.
Which is all a really long way of saying that I'm not sure how to go about reviewing The Disaster Artist. I want to just write, "It's really funny, go see it," save this post, publish it, and walk away from my laptop so that I can figure out how to write a film appreciation for Jesus Christ Superstar that I've been banging my head against the wall about for a couple months now.
But, I guess I'll try and figure out a way to write this review instead.
Before reading any further though, I do recommend reading my review of The Room first, just to fill yourself in a bit on the origins of The Disaster Artist. The short version of the story is that there's a film called The Room that's so bad that it's inspired a cult following. The Disaster Artist is based on a book by the same name written about the making of The Room, but also details the friendship between its author Greg Sestero (one of the stars of The Room) and Tommy Wiseau (the writer, director, and producer of The Room, who also stars as its main character).
I'll say up front that the first act of The Disaster Artist is a bit slow going at first. Watching Greg and Tommy's friendship rise is just interesting enough to keep the story moving, but once they join forces to make The Room at the start of the second act, the movie roars to life. The making of the film is equal parts hilarious and horrifying as Tommy flexes his ego the deeper they move into the shoot, demanding more than any film director ever reasonably would. Tommy compares himself to Alfred Hitchcock at one point and compares himself to a dictator. It goes over about as well as you'd expect.
While a seemingly endless number of celebrities make up the cast on the fringes of the film, it's undeniably Dave Franco and James Franco's film in terms of performances. Dave Franco plays Greg as a timid newcomer in awe of Tommy. I wish there was more depth to his character at times, but the third act does a good job of transforming him into a more interesting figure in the story.
However, James Franco as Tommy Wiseau is the standout performer here. It's funny to watch James Franco star, direct, and produce a film about a megalomaniac that starred, directed, and produced his own film, but the difference is that James Franco seems to have picked up some legitimate directing chops over the years. I'll be one hundred percent honest here, I have never seen a single film Franco has directed up to this point. I'd heard mixed reactions at best to his films and one of the last films he directed, a Steinbeck adaptation called In Dubious Battle, had a trailer that accidentally showed camera equipment in one of its shots. So I wasn't super optimistic.
With all of that in mind, I'm honestly really impressed. The Disaster Artist might be shot almost entirely on handheld cameras. but don't mistake that choice as some kind of "quick and dirty" way to make the movie. It's a deliberate choice that's used to dizzyingly stage the movie, giving it a documentary feel at times. In fact, the film's opening scene that reveals Tommy is impressively staged alone, and several other scenes throughout feel particularly inspired in their direction. Again, I don't know how Franco has done as a director up to this point, but if The Disaster Artist is any indication, he's got real directing chops.
As for his performance... It's hard to judge at first. It almost seems like a caricature of Tommy Wiseau, but when the movie puts the two side by side during a post credits gag, it shows just how insanely devoted James Franco was to getting it right. The fact is that Tommy Wiseau almost seems like a caricature of himself no matter what you do because he's just so weird. It's an honestly impressive performance that anchors the film.
The film's biggest success though is its third act where Tommy and Greg premiere The Room in Los Angeles. I tend to write in hyperbolic language, it's just in my nature. I love to be excited not only about movies, but the act of watching movies and discussing them. So I really thought long and hard about if what I'm about to write next wasn't an exaggeration, but how I really felt about The Disaster Artist's third act. Here it goes:
The Disaster Artist has one of my favorite third acts of any film I've seen in 2017.
For a film that's about realizing ambition, watching the cast react to themselves in the film is a complete and total blast. I was laughing throughout the whole movie, even its slightly shaky first act. But the third act is just amazing and one of the best times I've had watching a movie all year.
This all comes with a catch though. I've seen The Room several times, and three of those times were in a theater yelling at the movie. I have no idea how someone unfamiliar with The Room as a film would react to The Disaster Artist. I can't even begin to guess how they'd react to this film or if they'd even be motivated to seek out The Room afterwards. The reason I mention that is I feel like I got a lot out of The Disaster Artist by having seen The Room. On one hand, I'd recommend (that feels like an awfully strong word for one of the worst movies ever, but I digress) watching The Room before you see The Disaster Artist, but on the other, I'm sure it's still interesting enough without having seen it. Maybe.
Regardless, The Disaster Artist is an exhilarating, painful, and funny view into the business of making horrible movies with the best of intentions.