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Blu-ray Review: The Disaster Artist – “Laugh out loud funny”

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The Disaster Artist is a film about the making of The Room, which, like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, has taken on a “so bad it’s great” type of cult following in the last decade. I have still to this day never seen The Room, because I want the full cinema experience with the film’s star, director, writer and producer Tommy Wiseau in the audience rather than just watching it at home. However, like any film fan, I know most of the now iconic lines and scenes, so going into The Disaster Artist I knew the gist of its source material.

James Franco stars as Tommy Wiseau and also serves as the film’s director. It’s the first film he has directed to have had had any real commercial appeal and success. When he directs, he normally selects noted works of American literature (William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck) and presents them with minimal budgets, and with varying degrees of success. Here he had a higher budget than usual and a major studio (Warner Bros.) backing the film, which obviously helped to get his vision onto the screen.

The feel of the film is undoubtedly based on Ed Wood, which took a similarly affectionate approach to the making of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It depicts Tommy Wiseau as this crazy dreamer who meets fellow actor Greg Sestero (played by Franco’s brother Dave) and then hatches this plan to make The Room, which he conceived as a “Tennessee Williams-level drama.” They both can’t get arrested, partly because Tommy has absolutely no talent as an actor: he speaks in this European accent of unknown origin (most likely Eastern, although he insists he is actually from New Orleans). But somehow he has a bunch of money, so he decides to make his own film and actually does the completely mad thing of shooting it simultaneously on 35mm and DV. The film never goes into where the money came from, partly because it’s not fully known, and there are rumoured to be organized crime links—something Sestero dismissed in his book that The Disaster Artist is based upon.

It’s not without flashes of fantasy, which most certainly evokes the famous Ed Wood meeting Orson Welles in full drag scene more than once. Bryan Cranston appears as himself in a scene where he offers Greg a bit part on Malcolm in the Middle near the end of the shoot, but finds out he must shave his beard for the film. However, in reality, he was reluctant to shave because he wanted to remain somewhat anonymous—because he assumed the film would be a disaster and didn’t want that to get in the way of future roles. Similarly, there is a scene where Greg and Tommy visit the death site of James Dean whose “you’re tearing me apart” line is famously homaged in The Room. It’s a fun nod to both that scene, one of the two actor’s influences, and the fact that James Franco played Dean in a TNT TV movie at the time when the film is set.

Despite some clear flights of creative license with the material, as far as I can it’s relatively close to what happened — even if Wiseau is painted in a perhaps more sympathetic light than he should be, probably because he is such a lovable, larger than life character in real life. It’s laugh out loud funny the entire running time, with “and you know, for your information, where director come from, dictator. Rest my case!” being a particular favourite line for me. It faithfully reproduces the iconic scenes from The Room, and the film ends with a couple of minutes of side-by-side comparisons. Don’t forget to wait till after the credits for a certain cameo of somebody… the film is full of cameos from the get-go, but it’s the best one. Franco has finally pulled off making that completely satisfying film as a director. We all knew it was in him, I just hope Zeroville and Bukowski might get a release soon after this film’s success.

The Blu-Ray release includes an audio commentary with James Franco, Dave Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, along with a little under 30 minutes’ worth of featurettes, which are not amazing but better than your usual EPK fluff. It also includes a digital copy of the film for those sick people who like watching a film on their phone.

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