Sunday, June 24, 2018
Oh Hai Watch: The Disaster Artist (2017)
Format: Amazon Prime Video
I don't know how many times I've seen The Room, the so-bad-it's-something movie that still plays midnight showings, has it's own cult following and in-movie-activities. It's a sort of indie-drama/ melodrama that you kind of have to see to believe. All unknown actors, a set that looks like a local playhouse's rendition of a "hip" living room, a mish-mash of storylines that sort of ramble around, unwanted/ unneeded nudity and sex scenes - all in the service of a weird self-pity party of "Johnny", a guy played by writer, director, producer Tommy Wiseau.
For those catching up, Wiseau is a man of legitimate mystery. Despite over a decade of "fame", it's unclear where he is from (last I heard, the theory was Poland), how he self-financed The Room to the tune of $6 million dollars, or how old he was at the time of the filming (I'd hazard somewhere between an incredibly rough 42 and boyish 1000). Like, to this day, no one is sure, and he isn't saying.
About the second time I saw an ad for The Disaster Artist (2017), I wondered aloud "who is the audience for this movie?", because my assumption is - it's strictly people who have already seen The Room. I guess it could be people who want to see a movie about a movie they've never seen (I mean, why not?), or the sort of people who go see "a movie", and just buy tickets to whatever is showing next when they arrive at the cinema (they exist and it creeps me the hell out). Because the ads were clear the movie is about the unlikely friendship of Wiseau and actor/ co-something on The Room, Greg Sestero (you've never heard of him if you've not seen The Room), and the history of the movie. Which, honestly, it barely delves into the insanity you can find in the Wikipedia entry on The Room.
Instead, we get a serviceable movie about two guys, their dreams and their friendship. That it was nominated for any awards (James Franco won Golden Globe for Best Actor, it was nominated for "Best Comedy" at same, and an Oscar nom for "best Adapted Screenplay" - despite buzz, was hobbled by #MeToo allegations about Franco's behavior with coeds) speaks more to me about the mindset of people working in movies than the actual, finished product. It's an enjoyable enough movie, but (a) really does require that you've seen The Room, which (b) is absolutely the more... memorable(! I'm going with memorable) movie, and (c) leaves out some of the weird recasting issues, etc... to streamline the movie for an audience that knows this is factually inaccurate and would have added a lot but might have taken time away from the story they tell which... is okay, but... man, if you're doing a story about The Room, be willing to get into how that impacted more than your two leads.
Speaking of - the movie does star director/ actor James Franco and his brother, Dave Franco (a guy who, it's impossible to tell if he's playing Sestero as just happy to be there, or if Dave is just happy to be there). James Franco is clearly having the time of his life playing Wiseau, almost gets the accent, and does manage to bury his handsome-ness enough to at least suggest Wiseau's look. He sorta gets the dead-eyed demeanor down.
One of the things about the original The Room is that the talent may lack talent, but they all also look like someone you'd see at a Chili's. Not a dig on anyone - but it's not "Hollywood-ready" players. The casting of The Disaster Artist, and the tell that this is the Hollywood version of the story is that everyone, to a character, is someone better looking than the original or a celebrity. (The jury is out on Dave Franco v Sestero. That's equal handsomeness.).
The movie contains no small amount of name Hollywood talent, from Paul Scheer to Alison Brie (playing Dave Franco's love interest). The number of cameos is both entertaining and says something a bit odd about why the movie exists. I mean, far be it from me not to get excited and say "oh, there's Bob Odenkirk!"* or "there's Megan Mullaly!", but I also know that *of course* the idea of doing a day of work to show up in such a piece of Hollywood folklore sounds like a lot of fun - and they've been having a laugh at Tommy Wiseau's expense for probably some years. It's a double-edged sword of "these guys chased their dream, and, look, we're acknowledging them" and "we're playing a part in mocking this freakshow even as we celebrate it."
Curiously, the guys who sell their participation best as an actual role and less as "look at us in a thing about The Room" are Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer as workhorse Hollywood pros who can't believe this @#$%... but the checks are clearing.
We do a good job of spinning "making fun of something" as celebrating what that thing became when, in reality - we can't look away from the car-wreck.** I struggle with this tension - because I am absolutely not above laughing my way through a bad movie, and it's hard to know how, say, a cameo by Melanie Griffith, works in her mind.
We all have industry-related stories tied to whatever field we work in, but only Hollywood is structured so that you can make a movie out of the car-wreck-of-a-thing with the willing participation of the people it's dragging ,and famous people will show up just to play for a day or a week. It all serves to step the movie further away from reality when the "characters" are real people, alive and well and participating in the movie. Even when a film shows a negative side to the characters, it's a fairly cuddly side. I'm not saying it needed to be a gritty docudrama, but if you're friends with the people you're dramatizing, you're gonna soft-sell, at best.
Something that straight up surprised me about The Disaster Artist is that it ends early in the story, failing to follow up with "how" the movie became known and famous. It shows the billboard that stood in Hollywood for what I seem to remember being years. But how the movie went from a single showing to regular, midnight engagements seems like as much a part of the story as anything else. The fact that this occurred is only mentioned in text in epilogue.
Despite all the above, the movie is pretty fun, could be a lot worse, and does what it sets out to do - tell a "buddies and their goofy antics as they pursue their Hollywood dreams". It hints at how insane of an experience it is to take in The Room, but provides the audience with training wheels, barely preparing the potential The Room viewer for "me underwears", Denny, "I definitely have breast cancer" and all the rest of it. But to show all that is just to show the actual movie and then stand next to it doing that Will Smith meme thing.
I literally do not recommend watching The Disaster Artist without first watching The Room, which is a hard sell. I don't know how much you're likely to get out of this film without seeing that which spawned it, but I also am not joining anyone in a screening.
*for some reason Bob Odenkirk and I locked eyes at Chicago O'Hare last fall when he was there to throw out in September 2017 and I wasn't sure what to do, so I just texted Jamie "some dude who looked just like Bob Odenkirk just stared at me"
**One of the oddest moments of my movie-going life was when director of Birdemic, James Nguyen, showed up at a screening of the movie in Austin just as word was getting out, and it wass painfully, obviously clear that Nguyen was not yet in a mindset to deal with how his movie turned was being viewed. After he earnestly introduced the movie, I very much remember trying not to laugh, but, man, by the third time the same music loop played over the unnecessarily long opening credits sequence (and I think plays 4 -5 times), I was crying I was laughing so hard. But, man, during the Q&A, you would have thought the audience just saw An Inconvenient Truth and was addressing Al Gore. It is weird what we do to try to spare someone even as the knife is out.