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Review: The Disaster Artist provokes schadenfreude

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Disaster Artist

James Franco from The Disaster Artist

There’s this word that I love that I never use because when I do, I sound like a pretentious ass. The word is schadenfreude which basically means taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.

Unless you’re a full-blown sociopath, schadenfreude comes when witnessing someone who has either wronged you or someone you care about “getting what they deserve.”

I’ve spent years watching the cult classic The Room and laughing at the terrible acting, directing, script and, well, all of it. Writer/producer/director/star Tommy Wiseau made a movie so hilariously tone deaf and insanely, hysterically bad that it’s easy to imagine him as an alien that put on its human skin to see if making a movie was remotely possible. There’s something sublime and innocent about how terrible The Room is, like the film is a precious snowflake that’s somehow green and shaped like a johnnycake.

The Disaster Artist re-creates not only the making of The Room, but also focuses intently on the friendship between Wiseau and Greg Sestero, who stars in The Room and went on to write the book The Disaster Artist, on which the film is based. Sestero and Wiseau were best friends who met in an acting class in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles in hopes of living their dream.

James Franco disappears into playing Wiseau, making me forget sometimes that I was even witnessing a performance. The generically Eastern European accent (of which Wiseau denies he has) is so flawless that it somehow manages to make The Disaster Artist even more quotably hilarious than The Room.

The multiple levels of meta awareness in the movie could be taught in film school. We have Franco, who’s widely seen as a somewhat pretentious method actor and filmmaker that’s responsible for writing and directing over a dozen movies no one has seen; including adaptations of William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck. He’s also directing, producing and starring in The Disaster Artist, which is essentially a biopic about Tommy Wiseau, a man writing, producing, directing and starring in a movie no one ever should have seen.

Wiseau and Sestero were obsessed with James Dean because he never gave up on his dreams, while Franco had one of his earliest starring roles playing Dean on television. Sestero and Wiseau’s friendship is the center of the film, so Franco cast his brother, Dave Franco, in the role. Sestero’s girlfriend in the movie is played by Alison Brie, who is Dave Franco’s real-life wife.

Even as much as I laughed at The Disaster Artist, there’s still a hint of sourness to the proceedings that made me feel crappy afterwards. It’s easy to see that everyone involved has great affection for The Room, but I’m not sure that love carries over to Wiseau. There’s several scenes that hammer home that Wiseau is delusional at best and mentally ill at worst, so laughing at him for two hours feels like the worst kind of schadenfreude: it feels like punching down instead of up.

Regardless of quality, The Room is truly a look inside the heart and soul of Tommy Wiseau, which is why throughout the entire film I was wondering whether Wiseau would make a dime from The Disaster Artist. It’s based on the book by Sestero, so he probably won’t, which means the Franco’s, Sestero and company are all making money off of someone they’re tripping over themselves to laugh at. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but that’s mean spirited and not very funny at all.  

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