Hollywood attracts millions of dreamers, people who see themselves appearing on the big screen in theaters or at home on TV, and are convinced their vision of what great art is will absolutely be shared by the masses and propel them to fame and riches.
The terrific new film “The Disaster Artist” tells the remarkably bizarre but true story of a mysterious figure named Tommy Wiseau, who came out of nowhere in 2003 with the film “The Room.” As the star, writer, director and producer of the movie, he was hoping to attain greatness in one fell swoop, only to find that he attracted all the ignominy of having cluelessly crafted a film that almost instantly was branded one of the worst pieces of cinema ever created.
If Wiseau hadn’t wisely capitalized on the outrageous initial reactions by turning “The Room” into a midnight-movie sensation, it might have died largely unseen and forgotten like so many other failures. But because he adopted the principle of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” he revealed a strong sense of humor and created an audience participation-heavy sensation that at one point screened weekly at midnight to sold-out audiences in 27 cities around the globe.
“Disaster” is based on a book by Wiseau’s main costar and best friend, actor Greg Sestero, who also rose above his meager skills and circumstances to help create the phenomenon. It may seem like just a silly story, but Sestero’s collaboration with prime journalist Tom Bissell found an emotional depth in the friendship between the two outsiders and, more importantly, developed a rousing “will they pull it off?” aspect to the underdog tale that ultimately makes the movie feel like a very funny and odd twist on the “Rocky” school of filmmaking.
The film opens on an acting class in which Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ real-life brother) is mesmerized by the over-the-top energy of Wiseau (James Franco, who also directs) at an acting class. They quickly bond over their unshakable — and largely unmerited — belief in themselves and their talents.
Greg is an idealistic yet largely clueless actor who is mesmerized by Tommy’s ability to draw seemingly endless waves of energy and emotion onstage in their acting class. Fascinated by his charisma, they become fast friends, sharing their showbiz dreams to the point they uproot their lives and become roommates in Los Angeles.
While Tommy is very friendly and highly charismatic, he remains a man of mystery throughout. He comes up with the idea of making his own movie when his impenetrable and unplaceable accent causes him to lose countless auditions. While Greg is eager to go along for the creative ride, he is surprised both by how poorly Tommy writes, directs and acts and how easily he gets financed.
Wiseau claimed to have spent $6 million on “The Room” despite the fact that it looks like it cost $6 to make, and never explains where his extensive funding came from. He is highly energetic as a director on-set, catching all around him in waves of enthusiasm even though, in their more reflective moments, they are aware they’re caught in a disaster.
“The Disaster Artist” shines a good-natured light on the underbelly of show business dreams, revealing the world of microbudget filmmaking that floods Los Angeles. It’s well-made, infectious fun that shows a positive depiction of loyal friendship and the American Dream.
James Franco pulls off a doubly impressive feat, via both his portrayal of Wiseau as well as the fact that he directed the entire film “in character” as Wiseau — meaning he issued orders in his bizarre accent and adopted the filmmaker’s oddball attitude. At a recent Screen Actors Guild screening, Franco revealed that his transformation into the strange-looking auteur required four hours of makeup each day.
Franco’s use of his brother Dave — a fast-rising comedy star who finds his breakthrough role here — as Sestero is a move that pays off brilliantly. The built-in level of affection and support between the two siblings lends the movie an extra layer of heart that helps keep “The Disaster Artist” from being the condescending hatchet job it could have become in many other directors’ hands.
Add in a fun supporting cast of at least a dozen young comedy stars ranging from Seth Rogen to Hannibal Burress, and “The Disaster Artist” proves to be one art film that is blowing up at the box office. Grade: A
Stars: Saiorse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Length: 94 minutes
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Indie actress darling Gerwig steps behind the camera as writer and director to deliver a debut film based on her life as a Catholic high school girl in Sacramento in 2003. Saiorse Ronan delivers a stellar performance, with Laurie Metcalf as her put-upon mom, and both will likely score Oscar noms along with this instant-classic movie overall. Grade: A
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.
Stars: Denzel Washington
Length: 129 minutes
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
This very odd slice-of-life tale of an unbalanced lawyer struggling with serious personality disorders who gets involved in several cases he shouldn’t and then has to face severe consequences seems more like a quirky acting showcase for Washington than a fully formed movie. Denzel Washington seems to have done this movie solely as a beg for a third Oscar, but it’s all quirks, no substance. Grade: C
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
This remake of the 1974 Oscar-winning hit movie and depiction of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel is superb filmmaking on every imaginable level: the score, cinematography and performances are all stunning. The final twist is also thoroughly unexpected, while also lending the film a gravitas that most Hollywood mysteries lack. A major contender for this year’s Oscars. Grade: A
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston
Length: 130 minutes
Directed by: Taika Waititi
The third in the “Thor” trilogy is an utter blast, cranking up the action and laugh lines to nonstop entertaining levels that make this better than the first two combined. Star Chris Hemsworth should be an interantional superstar, period, but this is a showcase of swaggering movie stardom at its finest. Cate Blanchett adds fun evil to the mix as the sister he has to team up with brother Loki to bring down. Grade: A
BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS
Stars: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christine Baranski
Length: 104 minutes
Directed by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
This sequel to the surprise 2016 hit about suburban moms who decided to rebel against the demands of perfection tones some of the original’s excessive raunch down while adding some heartfelt moments. The arrivals of ace veterans Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon as the moms they have conflicts with elevates this to make it one of the funniest movies of the year. Grade: A