13 December 2017

The Disaster Artist review

The Room is almost inarguably the king of "so bad it's good" cinema, a movie so obviously incompetent at every possible level of both film-making and story-telling that it genuinely has to be seen to be believed, but it's the man at the centre of it all, Tommy Wiseau, that really makes it such a fascination. He's not just someone who wrote, directed and starred in a hilariously awful movie - he's also a bizarre, eccentric figure who looks like an alien in a poorly fitted and badly designed skin suit and somehow sounds even stranger, which is only the start of what makes him such an oddity of a public figure. No-one knows how he funded what ended up being the absurdly expensive production of The Room; no-one knows what country he was born in; hell, no-one even knows how old he really is. He is, quite literally, an enigma.

Naturally then, "fans" of Wiseau's trashterpiece are sure to find a lot to enjoy in The Disaster Artist, which is based on The Room co-star Greg Sestero's "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made". Opening when Greg and Tommy first met at an acting class in 1998 and following them as they move to Hollywood before deciding to make their own movie, The Disaster Artist explores both the relationship between the two of them and The Room's more than just troubled production.

It's the latter of these two topics that ends up being where The Disaster Artist is at its most purely entertaining, but what really makes it work as a film is its ability to make us care for and empathise with Tommy, a man who even in real life seems more like an unbelievable caricature than a real person. Director/star James Franco's performance is genuinely great, and not just thanks to how uncannily accurate his Wiseau impression is - he's able to make us understand and relate to Tommy without ever toning down what it is that makes him such an oddity, and in doing so crafts a really interesting and human character without losing any of that which makes him so intriguing in the first place. Take, for example, a scene in which Tommy is told that he'll never make it in Hollywood in a million years - his reply of "and after that?" is corny and played at least partly for laughs, but Franco's delivery of it alongside the work The Disaster Artist puts into humanising Wiseau also makes it genuinely touching. Come the end of the film, Wiseau isn't just the laughing stock he starts it as - he's also a flawed, vulnerable, determined person for whom The Disaster Artist has an enormous amount of affection for.

It's this heart - this genuine, earnest admiration for Wiseau's ambition, misguided as it may be - that stops The Disaster Artist from feeling mean spirited (which it easily could've in the wrong hands) and turns it into a love-letter not just to The Room but to all outsider art, a celebration of those willing to put themselves out there regardless of how the final product turns out. Yes, it's a funny movie, one that isn't above highlighting Wiseau's mistakes and mining comedy out of them - but it rarely feels anything other than good-natured thanks to a careful, difficult balancing act that The Disaster Artist pulls off throughout.

The only real criticism that I'd make of The Disaster Artist that ultimately, it feels like the kind of thing that might've been better as an hour-long TV special than a feature length film - it's simply a little too conventional, a little too slight, despite its niche appeal. Around that though, The Disaster Artist is a surprisingly solid little movie, a funny, charming, well-acted film that those familiar with The Room are sure to enjoy - even if it's unlikely to upset too many end-of-year lists.

4 stars

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