Golden Shell for The Disaster Artist

On Film / The Daily — Oct 1, 2017

“Having placed second in Toronto’s People’s Choice Awards, James Franco scored his first big outright win as a director, his The Disaster Artist scooping Saturday night the 65th San Sebastián Festival’s Golden Shell, the top plaudit at the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world.” Variety’s John Hopewell and Jamie Lang report on the evening and, of course, have the full list of winners. The Disaster Artist premiered as a work-in-progress at the SXSW Film Festival and its theatrical run begins in December. Here’s a quick overview of what the critics have been saying about it.

The Disaster Artist is just barely a movie,” finds Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club. “For now, the facts: The Disaster Artist is an adaptation of the memoir of the same title by Greg Sestero about his involvement in the making of the sublimely turgid, outsider-ish melodrama The Room and his friendship with its Draculoid star, director, writer, and financier, Tommy Wiseau; it has about the same production values as The Room, but with more filming locations and better lighting; it was written by the duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Ours Stars, etc.) and directed by Franco, who also plays Wiseau; it will not make any sense if you haven’t see The Room.

So, The Room, then. We turn to Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov: “I’m not much of a so-bad-it’s-good consumer, but I have actually seen The Room: once, alone, at night, on a laptop, without people around me yelling ‘Spoon!’ or whatever. The movie’s greatest hits, which I estimate at totaling around fifteen minutes, are all on YouTube; the rest of it is a fairly grueling experience that’s more than a little sad. As Scott Tobias wrote, ‘At the core of all this superfluous nonsense is genuine, unmistakable, nakedly personal pain: Somebody out there hurt Wiseau badly, and The Room is his attempt to come to terms with it.’ But I get why people are super into it: The Room manifests forms of incompetence on every conceivable level in ways that no one else has quite executed.”

The Disaster Artist is a riot—and, paradoxically considering its subject matter, the best and most assured movie Franco has ever directed.” Sam Adams at Slate: “In the lead role, he nails Wiseau’s thickly unplaceable Eastern European accent (he refuses to say where he is from, implausibly insisting he was born in New Orleans), but his portrayal never slides into caricature—no mean feat, considering that Wiseau is virtually a freestanding caricature on his own.”

“Even when it’s about losers, history is written by the winners,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope, “but the potential unseemliness of Franco and all his funny brothers in arms ganging up—and the gang is all here, from literal brother Dave to artistic sibling Seth Rogen to satellite players Nathan Fielder, Jason Mantzoukas, and a truly priceless Zac Efron—to mythologize the woebegone Wiseau is offset by the fact of Tommy’s Pyrrhic victory. As the closing titles suggest, The Room has made its creator an icon of sorts, as well as a wealth(ier) man, so who’s to say he can’t take a joke—especially one that calculatedly sanitizes its source material (in a way not so different from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood [1994])?”

For Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold, The Disaster Artist “feels exactly like a ready-made marketing and distribution stunt, primed to be booked in the same places The Room has held court. If this is your sort of thing, you’re better off watching The Room again (though if this is really your sort of thing, The Disaster Artist is probably your sort of thing). For my money, it could have sufficed as a two-minutes-and-done skit.”

“But this is really an epic tale of doing whatever it takes to follow your fever dream, even if said dream involves inexplicable football games and a burning desire to show your ass onscreen,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “No movie has walked the tightrope between mockery and genuine affection so deftly.”

“Without ever inflating Tommy’s achievements or his talents,” writes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush, “and while still having a great deal of fun with his peculiar behavior, [Franco] makes him into what he always wanted to be: A true cinematic hero.”

“In the past few years,” writes the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee, “Franco’s career has turned into something of a joke: his tiresome need to provoke and his unfounded belief that he is a master of all trades means it’s all too easy to forget his talent as an actor. But he is staggeringly good here.”

“The specificity of Franco’s performance carries over to the exacting recreation of The Room shoot,” notes Jake Cole at Slant. “Franco’s film dives into the insane folly of Tommy’s passion project, how he buys, not rents, all of his shooting equipment, incurring massive costs for no other reason than to look like a big shot, or how he has a fake alleyway constructed to look exactly like the one outside the shooting stage. A portrait of Tommy as buffoon and tyrant emerges. . . . Nonetheless, The Disaster Artist remains a loving tribute to Wiseau’s creation, because sneakily hidden in the perfectionism of its recreations is the earnest belief that sometimes bad movies can leave as lasting an impression as the good ones, if not more so.”

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