As the annual Academy Awards race begins to heat up, there is one movie among the pack that seems like a shoe-in for a slew of high-profile nominations. On the surface, The Disaster Artist comes across one of two ways. If you’re a fan of James Franco’s mainstream work, the trailers are reminiscent of his goofball comedies like Pineapple Express and The Interview. Those who know Franco from his hit-and-miss dramatic aspirations might see The Disaster Artist as a convoluted (and self-indulgent) art piece. The movie is neither of those things. It’s also both of those things. James Franco and his buddies have elevated their hipster schtick to a level of innovation that’s being universally hailed by audiences and critics. If you’ve dismissed The Disaster Artist as a throwaway comedy or an out-of-touch art piece, then it’s time to throw aside your preconceived notions. The Disaster Artist is filmmaking at its best, and here’s why.
1. The Legacy of Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’
To understand the strange allure of The Disaster Artist, one must understand the film’s basis, the 2003 indie film, The Room. Produced, directed, written by, and starring Tommy Wiseau, The Room is a master class in how not to make a movie. There are plot holes aplenty, the acting is terrible, the writing is cliched, and the film’s star, Wiseau himself, is a candidate for the all-time worst actor. The Room has a Metascore of nine. However, the film’s popularity has continued to grow in the years since its release, thanks to a combination of the cult of personality that has formed around its creator and the movie’s bizarre origin story. Wiseau spent his mysteriously-gained fortune to write, film, and promote The Room, all the while tormenting the cast and crew with his insane behavior. In the history of filmmaking, the story of The Room is easily one of the most unique. It’s that story that James Franco has adapted into his biopic.
2. The Film Benefits From Franco’s Focus
If you’re paying attention, then you know that The Disaster Artist isn’t Franco’s first foray behind the camera. Between short films, documentaries, and features, the prolific director has helmed more than thirty projects (and he’s got four more slated for 2018). Even Franco will admit that a lot of his earlier efforts suffered from his commitment to working on a lot of projects at once. These days, the auteur is committed to slowing down and picking his projects with more care. The Disaster Artist is the first example of that new outlook.
3. Franco’s Performance Is Next-Level Devoted
In another fifteen years, some adventurous young director might be working on the backstory of The Disaster Artist. At least, the stories leaking out from behind the scenes are indicating that Franco was a character in front of and behind the scenes. For example, he reportedly never broke character throughout filming, a decision that made things uncomfortable for guest actors and family arriving on the set.
4. Tommy Wiseau Loves It (or He’s Pretending To Love It)
To do The Disaster Artist correctly, James Franco needed to secure Tommy Wiseau’s life rights. Wiseau reportedly suggested Johnny Depp play him in the film. While Wiseau ultimately didn’t get his way, the director of The Room seems to be enjoying the fictionalized take on his cult classic film. He went to the film’s premiere and was all smiles standing beside a triumphant Franco.
5. It’s a Family Affair
Over the last decade or so, Dave Franco (aka, baby Franco) has made a name for himself as a clean-cut kid with solid comedic timing. In short, even if he and the director weren’t related, he’d still be the right man for the role of Greg Sestero, the man who played Tommy Wiseau’s increasingly apprehensive co-star. The Disaster Artist is mostly the story of Wiseau and Sestero’s relationship, which means the movie hinges on the brothers’ onscreen chemistry. Fortunately, Dave is more than up to the job.
6. The Cast Is Incredible: an Unabashed List
James Franco called in all his Hollywood favors for this one. The film features appearances from a staggering number of gifted actors you know and love. Behind Franco, the primary supporting cast stars Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, and Hannibal Buress. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for Franco. A pre-credits sequence features testimonials from a variety of familiar faces: Bryan Cranston, Kate Upton, Bob Odenkirk, Zach Braff, JJ Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, and more.
7. Franco Spent Time Working on a Full-Body Transformation
One of the most memorable (and strange) moments in The Disaster Artist is the filming of a sex scene from The Room. Franco agreed to go nude for the bit, but he was presented with an unusual problem. In his words, “Tommy Wiseau has a very particular body type … I heard [costar] Jason Mantzoukas describe it on his podcast with Paul Scheer, How Did This Get Made: ‘It looks like his skin has been freeze-dried to his body.’ It’s so odd.”
8. It’s About the Nature of Fame
In the years since The Room released, Tommy Wiseau has embraced the popularity of the film regardless of the fact that more viewers for The Room mean more ridicule for Tommy Wiseau. It means that a project Wiseau poured his heart into is routinely laughed at and ripped to shreds. But he gets attention. It’s a complex emotional landscape that The Disaster Artist tackles with a whole heart and its one of the more compelling reasons to check out the film.
9. The ‘Sunset Boulevard’ Connection
Of all the films influencing The Disaster Artist, Franco is quick to point to Sunset Boulevard, a 1950 noir film that follows a writer who gets mixed up with a delusional former starlet named Norma Desmond. Quick aside: if you haven’t seen Sunset Boulevard, don’t be turned off by the fact that it’s 67 years old and in black and white. The film is brilliant, and it’s just as stirring today as it was in 1950. The Billy Wilder film is arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, and it’s the most excellent movie about Hollywood ever produced. In other words, aspiring to Sunset-Boulevard-level brilliance is a lofty goal indeed. But, Franco doesn’t shy away from the comparison, saying that like Sunset Boulevard, The Disaster Artist is “both a critique and a celebration” of the Hollywood system.
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