Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Film Review: The Disaster Artist

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I don't know how enjoyable this film is if you haven't seen the source material.

The Disaster Artist follows the true story of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) who is a shy actor struggling with his confidence.  One day in an acting class he meets Tommy (James Franco), who is a horrible performer, but who exudes all of the boldness and confidence that Greg lacks.  The two strike up a friendship and move to Los Angeles together and try to make it into the film industry with very little luck from their meager talent.  Since they fail to get jobs, Tommy decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie with Greg.  Together they make The Room, the movie that many people consider to be the worst film of all time.

On the surface, the movie appears to be a thematic cousin to Tim Burton's masterpiece Ed Wood.  Both films are about bad directors making terrible movies.  But Burton used all of his amazing skill as a visual storyteller to create an artistically beautiful version of Ed Wood's style, director James Franco cannot quite match that level.  The movie has a strong guerrilla film making vibe, but that isn't exactly what you have with The Room.  Of course, The Disaster Artist doesn't have to mirror The Room's style simply because the latter film is the subject of the movie.  But it would make for a nicer visual harmony.

One of the smart things that the movie does is that it very much humanizes the very strange Tommy.  He is an enigma throughout the film who seems to ape human expression while being confused by human emotion.  But it touches on that deep-seated fear that many of us have that our artistic ambition exceeds our talent.  How many of us get frustrated when we try to draw or sing or dance and feel that we come up short and make fools of ourselves?

I remember in high school I was cast in the lead in the school musical.  It was really the first time I sang in front of an audience.  Some times I sang well, some I did not.  During one sequence I had to sing and dance at the same time, which caused my pitch to go all over the place.  At my graduation party, my parents put on the video of the musical to play in the background.  One of my best friends who hadn't come to the show heard me hitting all of the wrong notes.  Upon hearing that, he turned to me and said, "You wanted me to come and hear this piece of crap."  The sharp flush of embarrassment was all the more painful because he was correct that I hadn't performed well.  I did not, at that time, have enough skill or talent to perform that part well.  And that same pain is conveyed very effectively in The Disaster Artist.

We can all remember a time we were excited about an idea or an activity only to be told that it wasn't good.  Even we push past these criticisms, there is always the nagging question: "Is this thing I love actually terrible."  In Tommy's case, it is.

That isn't to say that there isn't also a great deal of humor to come from the movie.  The movie tries to balance the drama with the comedy.  Most of the comedy comes from watching Tommy's utter incompetence as he orders around a professional film crew who are flabbergasted by the inanity of his choices, like re-creating a brick alley in a studio even though there is one exactly like it on the studio lot or using both a film and digital camera at the exact same time.  I have not been a fan of Seth Rogen for a while, but his constant exacerbation as Sandy the cinematographer brings some of the best laughs.  But as Tommy's behavior begins devolving into more chaos, you begin to have the creeping thought, "This isn't funny anymore."  This is especially true when Tommy becomes close to abusive while filming a sex scene with Juliette (Ari Gaynor).

The other performances are also fairly good.  Dave Franco brings enough earnest joy to Greg that you can't help but root for him and his journey.  Alison Brie does a fine small turn as Greg's girlfriend.  But the central performance is James Franco as Tommy.  This is where knowledge of The Room can make a difference.  The real Tommy's performance in the movie is so legendarily bad that it actually would take a master actor to replicate it and James Franco doesn't quite do it.  Like Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Nixon, Franco goes for a general affectation but doesn't quite get close enough to the real thing.  But as frustrating as Tommy is in the movie, James Franco is able to extract a lot of sympathy for him from the audience.

If you enjoy watching The Room, seeing it recreated is oddly nostalgic.  For those uninitiated, the end credits show side-by-side shots of footage from that movie and the recreations of those scenes in The Disaster Artist as if to say, "We weren't exaggerating, the movie is THAT bad."

But like Tommy himself, you feel a distance you can never fully overcome.  The movie never fully connects in the way that it should.  I wanted to like it more than I did.  But like Tommy, I think James Franco's artistic ambition exceeds his talent.

picture by Yasir72.multan 

No comments:

Post a Comment