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The Art of Making a Disasterpiece

December 9, 2017

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People sometimes ask me if it’s harder to review a bad movie or a good movie. That’s easy: Writing a positive review is always tougher. Bad movies fall apart before your eyes: Scenes, performances, directorial choices stand out because they don’t work. When a film is great, all the elements meld, and it’s a challenge to express why it’s creatively successful without resorting to the same old synonyms for “excellent.”

But the truth is, every movie is a miracle. It’s a collaborative effort among a group of artists seeking to realize the vision of (usually) one person. When it all comes together, it’s magic. That’s one reason I love going out to the movies so much. Even though some of my friends think I’m crazy for spending so much time in a dark room watching mediocre or worse movies, there’s always the possibility that I’m going to see a masterpiece. Or a disasterpiece.

The Disaster Artist is a great film about the making of a terrible film: The Room, the 2003 cult-favorite unintentional comedy written, produced, directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau, an auteur of indeterminate age, ethnicity and wealth. James Franco, an actor-director capable of being awfully brilliant (Spring Breakers) as well as brilliantly awful (Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?), finds genuine inspiration in Wiseau’s quixotic quest to become the greatest dramatist since Tennessee Williams.

It’s a deeply personal film from Franco, and the culmination of his astonishingly prolific career to date. He casts younger brother Dave Franco as Wiseau’s best friend, roommate  and creative comrade, Greg Sestero; Dave’s real-life wife, Alison Brie, as Greg’s girlfriend; frequent co-star Seth Rogen as The Room‘s script supervisor; and mentor Judd Apatow as a Judd Apatow-like big-shot producer whom Tommy accosts in a restaurant and subjects to his performance of Stanley Kowalski’s “Stella” scene from A Streetcar Named Desire.

Franco and Rogen got their big breaks on Apatow’s tragically short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, and The Disaster Artist is a love letter to the freaks and geeks of the show-biz world. Like La La Land, it’s a romantic ode: “Here’s to the ones who dream/Foolish as they may seem/Here’s to the hearts that ache/Here’s to the mess we make.” It’s hugely entertaining, endearing, funny and self-aware (see what I meant about synonyms?). And make sure to stay through the end credits for the most meta-tastic scene I’ve seen in ages.

Maybe someday a great film will be made about the making of Just Getting Started — but I doubt it. This lazy comedy sounded promising on paper, as it’s the long-awaited — by me, at least —return of writer-director Ron Shelton. The guy practically invented his own genre, the sports-themed brom-com, with Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup. The quality of his films dipped when he went outside those lines (Blaze, Hollywood Homicide), but much of Villa Capri, as Just Getting Started was originally called, takes place on a golf course, as a former Mob accountant (a miscast Morgan Freeman) hides out in witness protection at a retirement community and hits the links with a mysterious new resident (Tommy Lee Jones, who can barely muster up enough energy to be cranky).

Ostensibly, they’re competing for the affection of a corporate interloper (Rene Russo) who’s been sent to impose financial discipline on the supposedly wonderful Villa Capri, but there’s zero chemistry in this would-be triangle. The story creeps along — even a few rote car chases take place at low speed — amid a few half-hearted attempts at jokes. What happened to Shelton, the quicksilver wordsmith who composed such beautiful odes to baseball in Bull Durham? He’s lost his fastball. Forget the generic new title. The movie stalls out before it ever gets started.

Yet there I was on opening night, sitting in a mostly empty theater where the median age was deceased, hoping Shelton would wow me one more time. As Judd Apatow tells Tommy, “Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can happen.” And still I dream.

 

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