Though many highlights at TIFF this year that have people talking are arriving after already wowing audiences in Telluride and Venice, we’re happy to report some standout debuts have been creating their own excitement.
The great performances keep coming: “Battle of the Sexes” features another triumphant performance by Emma Stone as tennis great Billie Jean King in a multi-layered account of the events that led to her match with rampant male chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader’s best film in 20 years, has a pastor sensitively portrayed by Ethan Hawke going through a dangerous identity crisis as the world around him dissolves into nothingness. It’s heavy, heady stuff with a powerful final scene that astonishes. Another mid-life crisis is featured in Mike White’s “Brad’s Status” which has Ben Stiller, back in “Greenberg” mode, accompanying his teenage son to college interviews in Boston as dad struggles to cope with his own personal failures. Narrated by Stiller’s Brad, the film has one of the more effective uses of voice-over color-commentary in recent cinematic memory, using its main characters vulnerable psyche to paint a picture of neurosis that sounds like a Woody Allen picture. And, of course, Judi Dench is in the line-up for Best Actress yet again this year, elevating conventional entertainment in “Victoria and Abdul,”
Guillermo Del Toro, fresh off winning the Golden Lion in Venice, is back home in Toronto where he resides, screening his masterful, surreal and dreamy “The Shape of Water” at the Elgin Theatre. The fact that some of the film was shot at the Elgin, a vintage cinema with beautiful architectural design, made the Canadian premiere of the film even more like a homecoming.
If anyone could possibly manage to steal a bit of thunder from Del Toro’s premiere on Tuesday, it may be James Franco whose “The Disaster Artist” finally screened a full 8 months after premiering at South by Southwest and bypassing every other festival until this week. Franco’s movie is a love letter to awful cinema, very much in the same vein as Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.”
In 2003, “The Room,” a film financed by self-proclaimed impresario Tommy Wiseau for $6 million, was supposed to be the culmination of his imagined talents, his ultimate artistic statement, and the capstone to his suspiciously vague career. But what turned out instead was what many consider one of the very worst movies of all time.
Wiseau wrote, directed and financed “The Room” in a vain attempt to salvage his own 500-page novel that no publisher wanted to touch. However, the resulting mish-mash was so bad that it has defied categorization to become a cult-classic comedy disaster. The film was such a compellingly inept trainwreck that it seemed too bad to be real. Were Wiseau’s intentions truly genuine? Did he really set out to make a good movie or was he aiming for outrageous satire? As told in the memoir by Wiseau’s best friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) upon which the film is based, we discover the horrifying truth that their intentions were sincere. This deadpan passionate delusion adds immeasurably to the allure and charm of the picture.
The fact that Franco and company — which includes Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Kristen Bell as collaborators in the hapless menagerie — have decided to put on a straight face and take it all very seriously, brings a hilariously endearing vibe to the festivities. Wiseau was an L.A. oddball whose age, source of income, and nationality were blatantly fishy. He claimed his entire family haled from New Orleans, but his distinct Eastern European accent belied that tale. Unlike most directors, his only prior claim to fame in the public eye had been as street vendor in San Francisco. One way or another Wiseau somehow amassed a fortune as a real-estate entrepreneur and invested $6 million in his folly “The Room.” Though universally ridiculed, it enjoyed an unexpected resurrection as a cult classic in its own right, with recurrent, raucous screenings worldwide.
Wiseau himself has been fairly quiet about the Franco’s film, but he more or less gave his stamp of approval by showing up to the premiere in Toronto. Franco said “We were unsure of what he was going to think, especially because he said, [mimicking Wiseau’s accent] ‘Greg book only 40 percent true,’” recalls Franco. “It was like, well, that’s what we based it on, so what are you going to think about our movie? I was like, ‘So, Tommy, what did you think of the movie?’ And he said, ‘I approve 99.9 percent.’ And we were like, ‘What was the 0.1 percent? He said, ‘I think the lighting, in the beginning, a little off.’ [Laughs]
The Disaster Artist therefore arrives as a double-dip of cinematic devotion separated by 15 years and a million gasps. It’s a valentine to movies that went wrong in all the right ways, an ode to the stinkers which we love and can’t live without. That it succeeds so effectively is thanks to Franco’s affectionate directing and dead-on performance as Wiseau. Post-screening a gang of Oscar bloggers gathered around pondering the mind-blowing possibility Franco could garner a nomination for this performance. It’s absolutely not out of the question. The role is much more than just a one-note take on an enigmatic and absurdly misguided individual. It manages to explore unexpected layers about the reckless lunacy of movie-making that we often forget exist when the outcome works out well. Can Tommy Wiseau circuitous path at last lead him to the Oscars? I say, why not.