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Disaster Artist is Not Bad. It’s Naaht!

Hope Madden Hope Madden Disaster Artist is Not Bad. It’s Naaht!Image via IMDb.
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One whole week to wait until the newest Star Wars obliterates all cinematic competition. But what should we do until then? Go see The Disaster Artist. Duh.

The Disaster Artist

There is genuine affection in James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, a behind-the-scenes biopic that gets inside the making of the best bad movie of all time.

Yes, The Room is the best—better than Plan 9 from Outer Space and Trolls 2. They’re in the same league because The Room is what these “classics” are – a simply god-awful movie made with such unpredictable creative vision that you cannot help but be amazed. It’s just that The Room has it in greater abundance.

It’s also a story of Hollywood dreams coming true, as well as a lovely tale of friendship. And, of course, a glimpse at one of the most unusual men in film, Tommy Wiseau.

In 2003, Wiseau released The Room, a film he wrote, produced, directed, financed and starred in. Not particularly well.

Almost 15 years later, The Room has seen cult adoration the likes few besides Rocky Horror would ever see. Because it is awful. So, so gloriously awful.

Directing his 19th feature (!!), Franco seems to have finally found a subject that suits his sensibilities, filling the screen not with vicious mockery as much as awe.

Jacki Weaver is magnificent as a baffled actor trying to do quality work. Zac Efron also turns in a startlingly solid performance – not because Efron is not usually solid – he is – but because this film doesn’t call for that kind of commitment. And Josh Hutcherson is a hoot in a bad, bad wig.

Franco’s performance as Wiseau is uncanny, and mercifully, his film doesn’t attempt to uncover the mystery behind this genuinely unusual creature. As future bestie (and author of the book on which the film is based) Greg, Dave Franco sets the mood almost immediately.

Recently embarrassed by his own stage fright during an acting class performance, Greg sits mesmerized by Wiseau’s writhing, prop-climbing onstage “Stella!” Where the rest of the class looks away in embarrassment, Greg soaks it in.

It strikes a sweet balance between embarrassment and affection that the film maintains throughout—one that not only allows us to embrace this freakish figure at the center of the film but mirrors the very emotion that has made The Room a lasting cult joy.

If you worry you won’t be able to follow The Disaster Artist without seeing The Room, two things. 1) Franco rolls scenes from both movies side by side to give you context and point out that this movie is no spoof. 2) Go see The Room!

Grade: B+

Thelma

A surprising, gorgeously filmed prologue creates a mood: a little girl, bundled in a red coat follows her father with his shotgun across a frozen pond into the snowy woods. She looks periodically through the ice at the fish moving beneath the ice. In the quiet woods, the two spy a deer. The girl holds her breath, staring silently at the animal while her father prepares to shoot.

The film never again rises to the exquisite, icy tension of its opening scene, but it does work your nerves and keep you guessing. As we follow that little girl, Thelma (Eili Harboe), through the uncomfortable, lonely first weeks of college, we gather that her parents are very Christian and very over-protective.

Things could have gone all predictable and preachy from there, but co-writer/director Joachim Trier knows what you’re thinking and he plans to use it against you.

Thelma is a coming of age film at its cold, dark heart. The horror here lies in the destructive nature of trying to be something you are not, but here again, nothing in Thelma is as simple or cleanly cut as the beautiful framing and crystal clear camera work suggest.

As familiar as many of the conflicts feel, Trier never lets you forget that something’s not entirely right about Thelma. She seems normal, maybe just sheltered, but that opening scene nags at you.

Like Julia Ducournau’s magnificent coming-of-age horror Raw, Thelma dives into the issues swirling around post-adolescent freedoms and taboos in daring and insightful ways. Trier also fills the screen with metaphorical dangers of indulgence and self-acceptance, although his protagonist’s inner conflicts lead to different results. Where Raw’s horror is corporeal, Thelma’s is psychological.

Thelma takes its time and lets its lead unveil a fully realized, deeply complex character full of contradictions—inconsistencies that make more sense as the mystery unravels. Though the result never terrifies, certainly doesn’t horrify, it offers an unsettling vision of self-discovery that’s simultaneously familiar and unique.

Grade: B+

Also opening in Columbus:
Big Time (NR)
God’s Own Country (NR)
Just Getting Started (PG-13)
The Womens Balcony (NR)
Una (R)

Reviews with help from George Wolf.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF, and listen to her podcasts FRIGHT CLUB and THE SCREENING ROOM.

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