Friday, December 8, 2017

The Disaster Artist

Cogito Ego Sum
"You're Deconstructing Me Apart, Lisa!"

Have you ever seen The Room? First off, (SPOILER ALERT), don't bother. The Room is a 2003 character drama conceived, written by, produced, directed, and starring Tommy Wiseau an actor-hyphenate of indeterminate origin and talent who has been known by a select few who have seen the film and regard the guy as something extraordinary. He is a bit like piano-playing cats in that he is extraordinary meme material. And to find out if somebody in your relative sphere is familiar with him, all you have to do is clench your fists to your face and with a pained expression on your face (the veins in your forehead have to look like they're ready to explode if you need a directing tip) cry out "You're Tearing Me Apart, Lisa!!"

Go ahead. I'll wait.

The Room is one of those movies that is so bad and amateurish that I haven't even bothered to post a review of it. It is almost surrealistically dumb and amateurish, a train-wreck with the interesting parts cut out, a relationship film where it is hard to follow if the characters are the same people from scene to scene. I would liken it to an Ed Wood-directed movie, but without aspirations, imagination, crew camaraderie, and ingenuity in coping with a small budget. Nobody looks like they're having a good time, so earnest are the cast-members in hitting their marks and making sure-that-they-are-getting-the-words-right. The only reason to see it is if one is in a really bad, vindictive mood and just feel the need to tear into something with malice. I wouldn't even suggest seeing it high, as it is disorienting enough that it might make you want to check into an emergency room (but it's not you, it's not the weed—it's the movie). I might even suggest it as a suicide preventive measure (even though—SPOILER!—the lead kills himself), as after seeing it, one might find something positive about themselves to keep on living—"Geez, even I could do better than that!" Somebody's parents are mighty proud (well, except for the sex scenes, of course), in the same charitably forgiving-Christmas-play kind of way. But, that's it. 

Okay, you don't believe me. Here is YouTube channel CinemaSins video of The Room (in which they broke the "Sins" meter). I'll wait:   

Well, it is legendarily bad. So much so that in Los Angeles (of course...) it is legend...regularly playing at midnight shows...enough to make back its six million dollar (yes, really) budget. A bewildered article in Entertainment Weekly appeared. The film became a staple of the podcast "How Did This Get Made?"—which features Los Angeles fringies back-biting projects that they or their friends were not involved with, and one episode features Wisseau's friend, co-star, and line-producer for The Room, Greg Sestero kicked a thought-about a book on the film into high gear. 

The rest is history. James Franco's Disaster Artist (from the Sestero book, adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, who did the, for various reasons, the wonderful (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and The Fault in Our Stars) does an extraordinary job in recreating the madness that went into the making of the film and its results (and, let's face it, Franco made it easy on himself choosing this subject—not exactly a high bar).* After a flurry of "witness" interviews—with Kristen Bell, Danny McBride, Keegan Michael-Keye, Adam Scott, J.J. Abrams, and Kevin Smith—talking about what an amazing thing The Room is, the film starts with the first meeting of Wiseau (Franco, James) and Greg Sestero (Franco, Dave) in an acting class (taught by Melanie Griffith, I should say) where Sestero is frozen by fear and Wiseau is alarmingly voluble and, frankly, a little bit freakish. Sestero is entranced, though, and asks Wiseau to do some scenes with him. After being initially skeptical, Wiseau relents and his positiveness—his "all things are possible" instinct—turns them into fast friends, eventually deciding to become room-mates in L.A. (Wiseau has apartments in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, sparking one of the mysteries of the guy—where does he get all this money?

Sestero is able to make some headway towards acting—he gets an agent (Sharon Stone), if not any work in particular. But, Wiseau comes up against a brick wall with acting coaches, agents, and all the niche-workers who think he'd make a good vampire, but that's about it. Wiseau becomes despondent until Sestero, trying to cheer him up, tells him, heck, let's make our own movie. Hey, Judy and Mickey did that! 

And so, they did. With a script by Wiseau—that is handed out scene by scene on a "need-to-know" basis like it was the latest Star Wars script, and it might be leaked to the media, they find a studio, buy (rather than rent) equipment, shoot in BOTH HD and 35 mm and shoot entirely inside the studio, even if, rather than shooting on an alley set, there's a perfectly fine alley right outside the stage door. Based on Sestero's reportage, it was a chaotic shoot, with a lot of bad behavior on Wiseau's part and an extraordinary number of takes when he was on-camera. Franco can't quite duplicate the deadness in Wiseau's eyes when he's on-camera, like he's one "z" away from falling asleep, but other than that, it is a freakishly accurate performance. It would remind one of Ed Wood, Tim Burton's tribute film to the worst director in Hollywood, if for the lack of any real acceptance of its subject actually having a "vision-thing." Burton celebrated Wood's "gee-whizery" about making movies. Franco does not have that luxury, as Wiseau has no vision other than what is of the moment.

One is reminded of the phrase that a good movie is something of a miracle—a good movie has ingeniousness, good planning as well as that indefinable something that cannot be explained or, by sheer rigor, has eliminated everything that can possibly stand in its way. Martin Scorsese said that every first assemblage of footage should make you want to throw up—it is only in the editing room that a good movie "finds itself" and is born from the raw material that is purged from the self-indulgence that created the movie. But, if there is nothing there but self-indulgence...

It does celebrate something in that only in America could a marginally talented person achieve his dreams as long as he has enough money (yes, I'm talking about Tommy Wiseau) and that, even though it may be totally garbage, it will still find an audience who will embrace it. America is that diverse—and capable of absorbing and creating enough self-rationalizing bullshit—that someone, somewhere will find value in it. 

* And, in apparent effort to either show off how exacting it was or just how bad the original is, in case no one believes it, Franco ends the film with side by side comparisons. Stick around for the end for the post-credit scene in which Wiseau plays a L.A. party-goer having a conversation with Franco's portrayal. Think that's odd? When the character of Greg goes to have a meeting with a talent agent (played by Sharon Stone) he is first interviewed by an assistant who is played by...wait for it...Greg Sesteros! Oh! It's like space and time folding in on its cinematic self!! (Although, not really).

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