It may seem impossible, but it can take just four minutes to drive the 1.5 miles from the Princess of Wales to the Ryerson after midnight. I know that because, by the grace of God, I did it last night in order to see James Franco’s hysterical Hollywood comedy THE DISASTER ARTIST, which is the funniest film of the year.
As soon as I saw Scott Cooper’s name appear at the end of Hostiles at 12:22 a.m (45 minutes late)., I bolted for the exits. The very second I stepped foot outside a minute later, a cab swooped me up like an actual knight in shining armor. For just one night, the city of Toronto smiled upon me. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks. A series of green lights ushered me through traffic, like a real festival VIP. I leapt out of the cab, ran atop the ledges outside the Ryerson, and just as the staff was about to let someone else in from the Rush Line who had probably been waiting hours to get in, I magically appeared at 12:27 a.m. It was a moviegoing miracle. But it wasn’t the only one.
Each year, TIFF gives accredited journalists five free tickets, and I woke up at 4 a.m. two days before the festival to win the right to request The Disaster Artist. As a diehard fan of James Franco and Seth Rogen, as well as a Midnight Madness devotee, it was of the highest priority, from a personal perspective. And yet, Hostiles was a hot acquisition title, so there was a professional obligation to see it. When it started 45 minutes late, I was crushed, having nearly resigned myself to a P&I screening of The Disaster Artist the following morning. But Hostiles was too good to just walk out of. I’d made my choice, and now I’d have to live with it.
And yet… I still desperately wanted to see The Disaster Artist with that Midnight Madness crowd, which didn’t disappoint, by the way, clapping at many of the most infamous lines from The Room. I just knew that a P&I screening wouldn’t offer the same memorable experience, and setting is really important when it comes to both comedies and horror movies, as laughter and fear are both infectious.
So I had an actual ticket, and was escorted to what I was told was literally the last seat in the house, which was a pretty damn good one, too. By that point, it was 12:29 a.m. and I had missed about five minutes, more or less. With that exception, I had made it. So I sat down already on Cloud Nine, just happy to be there. To the person at the front of that Rush Line, I sincerely apologize for being That Guy who shows up nearly a half-hour late and still gets in.
Anyway, it took me a second to get my bearings. See, I’ve never actually seen The Room, but I knew enough about it to pick things up pretty quickly. And as soon as I settled into the story, I got swept away into the absurd world of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), who practically lives on his own planet. Nothing he says or does makes much sense, even after Tommy does his best to explain it. And yet, as strange a character as Tommy is, there’s something so sweet about him, which is why you believe the quickly-formed friendship between Tommy and aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). When Tommy offers Greg the chance of a lifetime, to come to L.A. and live with him while they try to make it together in Hollywood, it’s an easy decision for Greg, who is eager for some space from his over-protective mother (Megan Mullally).
They set off for Hollywood where they find that the film industry, and Judd Apatow especially, aren’t all that welcoming. Out of options, they decide to make to their own movie, The Room, which is now widely recognized as one of the worst movies of all time. And yet, The Disaster Artist is the best movie about the making of a bad movie, or at the very least tied for that glorious distinction with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
I predict the industry will flip for this film, because most people who work in this business will be able to relate. They’ll recognize how hard it is to make a movie, let alone a good one. Do you think every actor has a 100% audition rate? No, every single actor/writer/director/etc. in Hollywood has been turned for some job that they wanted. They toil in this business for years and all they have to show for it are a bunch of bottled waters. And sometimes the only thing you can do about it is put your money where your mouth is, and make your own damn movie. Heck, my roommate did the same thing recently, and whether it’s good or bad, I’ll respect him for just doing it in the first place. Because say what you will about Tommy Wiseau, but he did not wait around for a movie that would never come. He went out with his buddy and he did it.
Now, not everyone is as independently wealthy as Tommy Wiseau — one of three things we never learn about him, including his age or where he’s from. In fact, when someone asked him those things at a post-screening Q&A, he said “who cares?” Personally, I don’t, because Tommy’s mystery is part of his appeal. I mean, I’ll spot him the hair and the sunglasses, but what is with those belts?
What I love about The Disaster Artist is that it’s not your typical Franco/Rogen movie even though it is. This is a film that is ultimately about friendship, which is the backbone of Superbad, Pineapple Express and This Is the End. And yet, there’s something a bit deeper at play. This is a movie about creating art, the sacrifices that takes, and how you become a fucked up little family in the process. I actually suspected this movie would be something special because it was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who did (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now and a bunch of other smart movies, and their script doesn’t disappoint. It’s a lovely homage that stands on its own as a companion piece, one that can literally be held up side-by-side during the end credits, which you should make sure to sit through to see how Franco’s recreated scenes from The Room compare to the original.
Though Wiseau pushed for Johnny Depp to play him in the movie, Franco happens to be perfect with his droopy eye, gaunt face and long hair. And let’s not forget that unplaceable accent, which Franco apparently used while directing this movie, as in — he stayed in character as Tommy throughout production. No wonder New Line had no idea what to do with this thing! Sure, A24 is a better-suited home for it anyway, but if you’re a marketing department as talented as Warner Bros. and New Line (probably the best in the biz), how can you not figure out how to sell this thing? It’s brilliant! And I wouldn’t be surprised if Franco earns a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
Elsewhere, Dave Franco makes a fine straight man, and unsurprisingly, has strong chemistry with his real life brother. Meanwhile, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Paul Scheer, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, and yes, the aforementioned Apatow, are among the standouts of the supporting cast, which is a who’s who of your favorite comedy actors. Some of them are only in the movie for a few minutes, but they come in, kill their lines and leave.
The Disaster Artist is a movie that could’ve been so mean-spirited, the Hollywood pros making fun of Tommy Wiseau and The Room, but it’s not like that at all. It’s presented in the right spirit, and you can tell that James Franco really respects Wiseau, having directed a few not-so-great movies himself. Make no mistake, this film works because it has real heart. And how many comedies can say that these days? I mean, there’s a reason the Midnight Madness crowd literally stood on their feet throughout the Q&A that went past 2.a.m. — a first for this TIFF veteran.
“Best friends do exist,” Wiseau said at the premiere while introducing Sestero. It was as touching a moment as any in the film, which Tommy said he approved of “99.9%.” Well I’ll give you my 100% recommendation, and trust me, you don’t have to have seen The Room to appreciate the comic genius of this movie, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Good luck to A24, which judging by what I saw from the studio at this festival, will have its hands full this awards season.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief