Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Disaster Artist: How The Room Happened

Get your head around this: Tommy Wiseau has now joined the ranks of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergei Eisenstein, and yes Ed Wood as a director whose life has inspired a dramatic film treatment—a form of recognition that has thus eluded Carl Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, and Michelangelo Antonioni. It is easy to understand why. The making of his comically melodramatic potboiler The Room was certainly dramatic. Supporting cast and crew could hardly believe their eyes, but Wiseau’s co-star and best friend will try to stick it out and smooth over the rough patches in James Franco’s The Disaster Artist (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

If you haven’t seen The Room, think of it as a Woody Allen straight drama in the Interiors tradition, but executed by Ed Wood. Many thought the story of the well-to-do Johnny, who is inexplicably betrayed by his lover Lisa, was autobiographical—a suspicion Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s screenplay seems to winkingly confirm.

Initially, Greg Sestero was drawn to Wiseau because of his passion. When they moved out to LA together to pursue acting careers, he was the perfect roommate, especially because he already owned a comfortable flat there. What was the source of Wiseau’s considerable bank account? Just where did he come from and how old is he anyway? These are questions The Disaster Artist can never answer, but acknowledges as the great mysteries of our time.

Regardless, both Sestero and Wiseau mostly scuffled in Hollywood, even though the former managed to sign with a talent agent. For obvious reasons, casting directors just had no idea what to make of Wiseau, but rather than give up, he sat down and wrote a juicy part for himself to play. That screenplay would become The Room. During the unruly production, script supervisor Sandy Schklair could tell it was bad, but even he was unprepared for the lunacy of the final cut.

Disaster Artist will inevitable be likened to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and the comparisons are justified. Both celebrate the eccentric vision and defiant persistence of their subjects. Frankly, they suggest the world would be somewhat poorer without their wacky, ridiculously grandiose magnum opuses, which is arguably true. Can you imagine life without Plan 9 from Outer Space?

Franco smoothly directs the chaos and he adds considerably more madness with his career-defining performance as Wiseau. Not merely portraying Wiseau as a self-centered, un-self-aware nut-job (although there is definitely that), he also gets at the man’s underlying insecurities. He is a mess, but he is definitely something else.

In the role of Sestero, Franco’s brother Dave nicely serves as an audience surrogate and frustrated voice of reason. Seth Rogen earns some big laughs, but also deserves some credit for being willing to look like a bit of a jerkweed as Schklair. However, nobody was as good a sport as Ari Graynor, who portrays Juliette Danielle, the unfortunate actress who had to play an excruciatingly uncomfortable sex scene with the naked Wiseau.

There are dozens of Hollywood celebrities making cameos as either themselves or people tangentially related to Wiseau and Sestero, but the film really doesn’t need them. It works just fine as a bromance and a grade-Z riff on Truffaut’s Day for Night.  That said, viewers should definitely stay for the stinger after the closing credits. Ultimately, it is a surprisingly endearing, forgiving, and downright idealistic celebration of the creative process, as misdirected as it might be. Highly recommended for cult movie fans, The Disaster Artist opens this Friday (12/1) in New York, at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square uptown and the Regal Union Square downtown.