Home » TIFF 2017: ‘The Disaster Artist’ Frames a Masterpiece in Bad Films

TIFF 2017: ‘The Disaster Artist’ Frames a Masterpiece in Bad Films

by Christopher Cross

Imagine making something that is so bad that people can only get through it by laughing at it — that what you thought was a masterpiece was the complete opposite. You would never eat food that was bad, nor would you play a game that was extremely bad, but would you watch a movie? For The Room, the almost unanimous answer seems to be “yes.” And that’s weird on several levels, because The Room isn’t just bad — it’s aggressively bad. It’s the kind of work that only exists in the form it does because someone willed it to, and if The Disaster Artist — based on the behind-the-scenes memoir from Greg Sestero and Tim Bissell that chronicles the making of one of the worst films ever made — is any indication, there were plenty of objections and signs that The Room should never have been made.

James Franco stars as the inimitable Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, directed, and starred in the infamous cult classic. Franco directs himself and Dave Franco (who plays Sestero) in a film about the destructive nature of following someone else’s dream. As both Wiseau and Sestero become friends and proceed to help each other navigate through Hollywood, their relationship forms the backbone of a hilarious, heart-wrenching, and often heart-warming tale of brotherly love, betrayal, and life’s unpredictability.

Of course, that’s also the same tale told in The Room. It’s no coincidence that The Disaster Artist feels less like your standard biographical film and more like a B-movie version of that. While Wiseau seems like the main character, the one we’re rooting for is always Sestero, who finds himself trapped in a toxic relationship that will only hurt his career prospects. We watch unpredictable moments unfold as Wiseau forces himself into Sestero’s life for better or worse, all beginning with a friendship that drives the two from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

What’s most interesting about The Disaster Artist is that it plays itself fairly straight, but has just enough quirks and weird moments to feel less like a run-of-the-mill biography and more like a Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg film. They didn’t write this, but those who did (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the team behind Paper Towns, The Spectacular Now, and 500 Days of Summer) actually help to make the film’s core relationship between Sestero and Wiseau endearing — with a slight bit of absurdity that they’re more than capable of handling.

The Disaster Artist

That being said, Rogen and Goldberg’s influence can still be felt beyond just the quirks. While it abstains from potty humor (something they’re pretty keen on in most of their films), it does include a sex scene that becomes increasingly uncomfortable as it tries to heighten the humor of the situation. Still, it all works in service of Wiseau’s character. The same can be said about Brandon Trost’s cinematography, which lends itself to comparisons to Rogen and Goldberg’s prior work, most notably This is the End (Trost is their go-to cinematographer), but also creates that different-feeling biographical film. This is also aided by a cast of comedic actors that you would typically see in a Seth Rogen film.

This is the End is a fairly apt companion piece to The Disaster Artist, despite focusing on the idea of celebrity within the context of a group of celebrities hanging out together. The latter attaches the idea of celebrity to one person who is not that, and sees how it affects those around him. It creates a sense of isolation for someone who requires attention and praise. While Franco still provides mystery to Wiseau (where is he from, how does he have so much money to finance a film, and how old he is are all questions brought up multiple times with no real answers ever given), he also tries his best to humanize a man who has often been regarded as anything but human (a vampire, for one).

There’s plenty of room to scrutinize The Disaster Artist for its repetitive scenes of Wiseau being Wiseau, but by the time we get to the filming of The Room, it’s filled with too many great moments celebrating a film that would be doomed under any one else’s control, never condoning Wiseau’s behavior on set, yet recognizing it as the reason the movie has its notoriety. The humor is on point throughout, and the movie’s final scenes will make you want to watch The Room immediately afterwards — and I think making someone want to watch a bad movie is what makes The Disaster Artist such a great telling of a preposterous real-life story.

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

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