Wednesday, 6 December 2017

IN THEATRES: The Disaster Artist

In 1998, aspiring thespian Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Inspired by their shared desire to become actors, they become fast friends and move to Hollywood to pursue their dream.

Frustrated by his inability to make any inroads as a professional actor, Tommy decides to make his own movie, one that allow him to show off his creative talents, and salvage his fraying relationship with Greg.

For almost a decade Jame Franco has been writing and directing his own movies. I have not seen any of them. On this evidence, he is onto something.

Sure, it is funny - the story is bizarre - but the filmmakers have found a through line (the friendship between Greg and Tommy) that grounds the antics and the in-jokes in something profoundly relatable. 

The movie is about the desire to create, and particularly the work that goes into making movies - even if the people making the movie are going about it in almost the exact opposite way that you would expect. More importantly - and the reason why this movie is not just some cheap celebrity in-joke at Wiseau's expense is that The Disaster Artist is ultimately more invested in the friendship between Tommy and Greg.

The way Greg impacts Tommy is just as fascinating as the impact he has on Greg - while Greg respects Tommy's go-for-broke approach to acting and filmmaking, Tommy enjoys playing mentor to the young man. However, as Greg matures and begins to experience the things that Tommy cannot (especially in terms of relationships), their dynamic completely flips.

Greg and Tommy
As the main characters, the Franco brothers are terrific. James is completely believable as Tommy - Wiseau is such a specific and easily recognisable character, yet the elder Franco completely disappears into the role. There are points when he is wearing the glasses where it is almost impossible to tell them apart.

As Greg, Dave Franco is the heart and soul of the movie.  He is also the audience's way into Tommy's world, and as their friendship develops, it helps to humanise the auteur beyond the 'Oh Hi Mark?' meme.

The focus on the friends means that the rest of the cast do not get to make the same kind of impact. Seth Rogen is terrific as The Room's incredulous script supervisor Sandy - he basically acts as the straight man to the on-set chaos. It is not really a stretch for him, but he never overplays. The scene where Sandy cashes his first salary check is one of the funniest things Rogen has ever been involved with.

Because we only see them in the context of their roles during filming, the rest of The Room's 'cast' come off a little weightless - I spent the whole movie comparing Ari Gaynor, Josh Hutchinson and Jacki Weaver to their real-life alter-egos. A minor pleasure for me was getting to see the hosts of How Did This Get Made? show up as supporting players (I really hope Jason Mantzoukas and Hannibal Burress get a spinoff movie about their characters).

I don't really have much more to say about the movie. It is a really good, and I am very curious to see where Franco's directorial career goes.

Overall, The Disaster Artist is far better than it has any right to be. A funny but incredibly empathetic look at one of cinema's great outsiders, it is definitely worth checking out - regardless of whether you have seen The Room or not.

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