Film of the Week

The Disaster ArtistJust like The Room, Tommy Wiseau's dreadful cult classic, The Disaster Artist seems to have taken on a life of its own. What sounds like a pretty niche idea - the story of a mysterious man who makes a bad film - has become the first must-see movie of the winter, and the reviews have been exceptionally positive. Does it warrant its high marks, or has James Franco taken his mimicry of Wiseau a step too far?

The good news is that TDA is very, very funny. In fact, the opening twenty minutes probably saw me laugh more than most comedies manage across their whole running time. We start with Greg (Dave Franco), a wannabe actor who freezes the second he's on stage. When the much older, oddly accented Tommy (brother James) tackles the famous Stella scene from A Streetcar Named Desire at their acting class, screaming and rolling around the stage, Greg sees someone who he can learn from, and the two quickly become firm friends. Tommy invites Greg to live with him in LA to take Hollywood by storm, and it's the start of a new adventure that ends with them making a film together, but there are underlying issues that threaten the partnership. After all, who actually is Tommy, and where on Earth did he get all that money?

The humour is quite well sustained but the tensions and suggestions of Tommy's violent nature prevent the film from being an all-out comedy. We see Greg getting disillusioned with the stresses of LA life, the men's friendship start to disintegrate, and the increasingly unpleasant working environment on the film, but the tonal shifts are never jarring. There is always a joke to relieve the tension after one of Tommy's outbursts, or an emotional scene to balance out the broadest moments of comedy. It reminds me somewhat of a film like Frank, where you have a completely unlikely protagonist who has to be humanised and made believable by the people around him. Perhaps the most remarkable thing that the film manages is to make Wiseau a sympathetic character: behind his veneer of confidence and arrogance, there is a desperate need to make something great which you can't help but admire. It's the perfect interplay of comedy and tragedy.

There are elements that stop The Disaster Artist from being a stone-cold classic. At times, it can feel more like a succession of (admittedly great) scenes rather than a cohesive whole, and there is little development of anyone outside of the two lead characters. In some ways, the story is too good: the whole thing is so improbable that the audience can start to feel distant from this stranger-than-fiction tale. But the feeling by the end, as Snap! plays over the credits, is a positive one, the audience responding to an uplifting finale reminiscent of Florence Foster Jenkins. This good feeling is well earned but I wonder if it will be there after repeat viewings, when the dazzling surface fails to give way to anything much deeper underneath. Overall, The Disaster Artist features some of the greatest scenes of the year; it just needed to do more to hold them all together.


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