The Disaster Artist: Long-Form Review

Anyone who’s a fan of “so-good-they’re-bad” movies has heard of Tommy Wiseau’s monstrosity of a film, “The Room.” It has gathered a massive cult following since its 2003 release, with Rocky-Horror-esque public showings popping up across the country even to this day. The film does everything the opposite of what a good movie should, to such an extreme extent that it has accidentally established itself as a hilarious trademark in bad movie history. Even more interesting than the lovable dreadfulness of “The Room,” however, is the story behind it.

“The Disaster Artist” witfully archives the production of “The Room,” focusing on the relationship between Wiseau, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, and Greg Sestero, who co-starred in the film and acted as Wiseau’s right-hand man behind the scenes.

Wiseau and Sestero are played by brothers James and Dave Franco, respectively. Their real-life relationship adapts well onscreen, forming a dynamic chemistry that’s seldom achieved in this genre of lighthearted biopics. If nothing else, it’s charming to see the brothers having so much fun working on a craft that they clearly adore.

James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is the undeniable high point of “The Disaster Artist.” Franco perfectly captures all of the guerilla director’s many quirks, from his ambiguously foreign accent to his permanently drooping left eyelid. He brings the mysterious (and slightly monstrous) man closer to the audience, creating a better understanding of why “The Room” is the way it is. Perhaps the most impressive quality of Franco’s performance, however, is his ability to appeal to both hardcore cult followers of “The Room” as well as the everyday moviegoer. This universal appeal brings two very different worlds of viewers together, contributing significantly to the film’s success.

The rest of the film’s cast is jam-packed with celebrities, some playing themselves and others depicting various members of the cast and crew of “The Room.” Most of these characters are two-dimensional and don’t add much to the substance of the movie, but make for good fan service to Franco’s typical audience.

If there was one feeling that could encapsulate “The Disaster Artist,” it would be feel-good. The film is very lighthearted and simple, sharing many traits with the typical “Hollywood” film. While this optimistic vibe leaves the audience satisfied, it doesn’t provide any complicated content to struggle with or mull over.

This simplistic take on the Wiseau story was a safe choice: it leaves a good taste in the audience’s mouth and provides a satisfying ending. The real story of Tommy Wiseau, however, isn’t so simple or sweet.

In the biographical book written by Greg Sestero, Wiseau is depicted as manipulative, megalomaniac, misogynistic and incredibly lonely. He takes advantage of everyone around him, and in turn drives them all away. There’s no clear conclusion to the true story, but what is clear is that Tommy Wiseau is a troubled man. It’s obvious why James Franco chose to leave this part out of his film, but it would have been admirable and impactful to see a more daring approach to “The Disaster Artist.”

Casual audience members will leave “The Disaster Artist” pleased, while more vigilant fans of “The Room” will walk away ecstatic. The film doesn’t break any new grounds, but it’s a fun take on a peculiar real-life story. 6.5/10

What it Means to be Politically Correct

In today’s social climate, people are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of their speech and actions. People are starting to pick up on the implications of the things that they say, and they’re becoming more vocal when others cross a line.

On the other end of the spectrum, people are tightening their grips on their freedom of speech. They’re seeing a “politically correct” movement span the nation and they’re feeling insecure about their own rights to voice their opinions. They see political correctness as a threat to their freedom and a weakness in society.

So, the question stands: what does it mean to be politically correct?

To some, it means to be overly sensitive and cowardly – too afraid to communicate genuine feelings, and too emotional to behave with reason. In the eyes of President Trump, this is exactly what it means.

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said during a Republican primary debate. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

Trump’s statement was met with a roaring applause.

To many, Trump’s unorthodox methods, including his anti-PC values, were a breath of fresh air in the stale climate of politics. Finally, there was a candidate who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even when he was standing in the global spotlight.

But what did Trump mean when he said that he didn’t have time for political correctness?

Maybe he was referring to the speech that he made on the day that he launched his campaign, when he blatantly antagonized Mexican immigrants, calling them drug dealers and rapists.

Perhaps he was referring to the time that he publicly mocked and imitated Steve Kovaleski, a reporter with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition affecting the joints.

Or maybe he was referring to the time that, in an interview with Access Hollywood, he boasted about kissing women without consent. That he doesn’t even wait. That, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p*ssy. You can do anything.”

In all of these cases, Trump threw political correctness out the window and instead expressed himself honestly and frankly.

And in doing so, he outed himself as a person with skewed morals at best and an apparent disregard for basic human rights.

Here’s the thing about being politically correct: it doesn’t have anything to do with politics. Political correctness doesn’t belong to a party, and it’s not a tool used to enhance a public image.

Being politically correct is about being tolerant to other people’s differences. It’s about respecting others’ values and identities. It’s about being a decent person.

A common anti-PC argument is that it’s a display of weakness in society. That we’re training ourselves to become overly-sensitive. That, back in the day, people could get away with so much more.

Well, back in the day, black people were openly discriminated against, it was okay to sexually harass women and people were imprisoned for being gay.

It’s time to change our standards of decency. We need to stop pretending that it’s okay to put others down for being inherently different, or to shun them out for holding different beliefs. It’s time to stop viewing political correctness as threat to freedom.

It’s time for respecting others to stop being a controversial topic.

Prompt #3 – Reviews

Review pieces lie in an interesting realm of journalism. I’m not sure why or how other people go about reading reviews, but when I do it, I’m usually trying to confirm my own opinions about something. After finishing a movie or hearing a song on the radio, I always know what I feel about it, but I don’t always know why I feel that way. Reviewers take the reader by the hand and walk them through the elements that contribute to the overall quality of a product, helping them figure out why they feel the way they do. (Or, the reviewer will have a completely different opinion about the subject, in which case the reader will probably blow them off as a bad writer. I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past.)

The two reviews that we read by Roger Ebert are great examples of a reviewer explaining why a product is the quality that it is. In his review of “Lincoln,” Ebert raves about the film’s unique perspective of Abraham Lincoln. He doesn’t just say that the unique perspective exists, though. He explains how Spielberg uses muted colors and fervent acting to depict the White House as a “roughshod gathering of politicians,” opposed to the glamorous bastion that it’s usually portrayed as in historical pieces.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ebert explains how a horrible film came to be in his review of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (The 2003 remake.) Whereas the average viewer would likely walk away from the film chalking it up as a bad movie and nothing more, Ebert takes it to the next level by exploring why the movie failed. He explains that the film is a cheap attempt at tapping into a cult classic, losing the originality of the first Texas Chainsaw movie while only reviving its twisted gore. Style without substance.

I think Ebert’s ability to delve into the reasoning for a film’s quality is what makes him such a great reviewer. Of course, he also writes with elegance and an incredible vocabulary, which adds to the pleasure of reading his reviews.

My favorite piece of the reviews that we read was Leah Greenblatt’s review of “Hamilton.” Her piece has a wonderful flow to it, starting with the most essential information and dripping down to the details of the cast and set. “Hamilton” is such an incredible musical because it takes a topic as seemingly monotonous as the most forgotten founding father’s life and turns it into a grand spectacle of tragedy and adventure. Greenblatt’s review succeeds in a similar way, using flowery language to make a musical review read like a novel. I also appreciated her emphasis on the diversity of the show’s cast, as that was such an important aspect of the show’s success.

The two shorter reviews, one about an album by Pink and one about a novel, held different qualities than the rest. Because they were so short, the authors didn’t have the freedom to use the extravagant language that was featured in most of the reviews. Instead, they were very straight to the point and covered only the essentials. I think this is an effective method of reviewing in some senses – especially if the reader hasn’t experienced the work yet, and is trying to gauge whether or not they want to throw themselves into it. When it comes to people like me, though, who are reading reviews in order to explain their own feeling after experiencing the work, these shorter reviews likely won’t live up to their expectations.

It’s Okay to Quit

When I first started out at Piedmont College, I knew exactly what I wanted my higher education experience to entail. I would take every opportunity by the horns and grip onto them for dear life. I would get an A in every class that I took, I would envelop myself in every extracurricular activity that the school offered and I would scale the ranks of Piedmont’s social ladder. I was determined to become the epitome of student success, and nothing could get in my way.

And then I did it. And it made me really, really unhappy.

By the end of my second year at Piedmont, I had accomplished all of the goals that I had set for myself. I was a straight A student, a resident assistant in Purcell Hall, I worked for the student newspaper and I was neck-deep in work for the Campus Activities Board. It was the most accomplished that I had ever felt in my life. Something wasn’t right, though.

Amidst all the work that I happily embraced throughout my first two years of college, I forgot to leave time to focus on things that made me happy. As I piled on more leadership assignments, design work, newspaper articles and video projects, I lost important parts of my life that made me feel secure and happy: Skyping with my family, playing games with my friends and just enjoying the weather outside.

The workload that I had excitedly brought upon myself was now the reason I didn’t enjoy college. The ecstatic flame that drove me to become a student leader in the first place had been reduced to a smoldering ember, and I was suffocating on the smoke.

I’d like to say that I realized my mistake right away and instantly switched routines, but that wasn’t the case. Before I could fix my schedule, I had to swallow my pride.

I had worked hard to establish myself as a go-getting, overachieving student leader. I had made my parents and my teachers proud with my achievements – I even started to convince myself that I was an extrovert at one point. How could I completely flip-flop and back out of the responsibilities that I was once so eager to obtain? Wouldn’t that disappoint everyone?

Short answer: no one gave a shit.

It took me a while to work up the nerve to drop some of my responsibilities. What finally gave me the push I needed was an image that I saw while scrolling through my Facebook feed at 2 a.m. The image was a drawing of a coffee maker with a quant message hand-drawn overtop: “your worth is not measured by your productivity.”

First I quit my job as an RA, which was taking up a lot of my time, and later I resigned from the Campus Activities Board. In both cases, my bosses were a bit disappointed, of course, but equally understanding. My parents weren’t disappointed in the slightest.

I had convinced myself that there was a spotlight constantly shining on me, but when I finally took the step that I thought would make everyone upset… nothing happened at all.

Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing”: I was instantly hit with a flood of relief, my once pen-riddled calendar was finally clear and open to adventure. I felt less accomplished, but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered is that I felt free.

My goal in writing this is to send a clear message to anyone who’s in the position that I found myself in last year: it’s okay to quit. It may feel like everyone is watching you and has unrealistically high expectations, but it’s probably all in your head. And even if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. This is your life. If you feel overwhelmed and it’s making you unhappy, it’s not too late to make a change.

As I realized, laying sideways in my bed in the pitch-black of my dorm room, your worth is not measured by your productivity.

Prompt #2 – Editorials

Even after doing some research (five minutes of Googling), I’m still not entirely certain what the difference between opinions and editorials are. I suppose opinion pieces are written on a more independent level, focusing almost solely on the perspective of the author. Editorial pieces, it seems, are generally written by a publication’s editor, encapsulating the opinion of the publication as a whole. Based on the examples that we’ve read in this class, this higher standard of the author’s opinion can have both positive and negative effects on writing.

On one hand, editorial pieces seem to carry a lot more weight than opinion pieces. When an article is written on behalf of an entire organization, it automatically empowers the author’s voice and gives the story a tone of authority. Staff editors are also often more seasoned journalists than opinion writers, reinforcing the authoritative tone that their stories carry. This sense of authority adds more weight to the opinions of editorial writers.

The “institutional perspective” of editorial pieces also seems to hold back authors, though. Compared to the opinion pieces that we discussed last week, these editorial pieces held significantly less character. The authors didn’t seem to add much of a personal touch to any of the stories – there was none of the flowery language or quirky anecdotes that we saw in the opinion pieces. All of the editorial pieces were straight to the point and strongly driven.

My favorite article from this week’s set was the Campus Sexual Assault piece by The Sun. The author did a great job of revisiting an older story, and revitalizing it with up-to-date statistics. They didn’t stop there, though: the author made a point to call out the people who were partially responsible for the problem, and introduced a way to make positive changes.

I’ll admit, I did glaze over slightly during the “call-out” portion of the story, but I’m certain that the story wouldn’t have lost my attention if I had closer ties with the school. I love a good, juicy, exposing story like this one, and I would have been proud to be a part of it.

I think the least effective piece from this week’s reading was the International Students story by the Octagon. I admire the goal of this piece, and the author did a good job at conveying their own emotion, but the writing came across as amateur. (To be fair, I think this is an amateur publication, so it’s perfectly fitting.)

I wish the author had done more to integrate the writings of the international students into their own piece. I also started getting frustrated by the number of trite phrases used in this piece. Phrases like “It’s high time,” “time is of the essence” and “we’ve turned a blind eye” started wearing down on me by the end of the story. Each time a cliché was used, it took me away from the point of the piece.

Here’s my take-away from this week:

Editorial pieces are the Tarzan to opinion pieces’ George of the Jungle. George is quirky, offbeat and, at times, really really bad. He’s easy to relate to, but even easier to dismiss: his best qualities are often also his worst. Tarzan is a different story, though. While he doesn’t carry the unique spunk that draws George’s following, he’s consistent, reliable and powerful. People take Tarzan a lot more seriously, because he’s delicately crafted to represent the ideals of Disney.

Helpful analogy, right?

Prompt #1 – Opinions

In general, opinion pieces or autobiographical stories are the least accessible form of written journalism for me. Unless I have a personal connection to the author or vested interest in the subject at hand, I have a hard time finding a reason to take the time to read their story. It takes a skilled writer to make a seemingly unrelated story catch my attention and line up with my interests. All five of the stories that we read this week, on varying levels, did just that.

The most obvious connection between the five stories is that they’re all autobiographical. I think there’s a deeper connection though – one that influences my ability to connect with them: all five stories are formed from a background of pain.

Maria Ramos writes from a perspective of isolation, separated from her family and discriminated against based on her background. Jillian Keenan explores the process of overcoming the shame associated with an unorthodox fetish. Yemisi Aribisala also writes about shame, this time looking back at a ritual that she was subjected to as a young girl. Jenny Alpaugh discusses the loss of her church, emphasizing the perseverance of the community behind it. Finally, Frank Campos writes about his relationship with guns, and why he abandoned that relationship to cope with the loss of lives due to gun violence. In all of these cases, the authors used their pain to breathe meaning and relatability into the stories.

My favorite piece from this week is “Finding the Courage to Reveal a Fetish” by Jillian Keenan. Keenan is obviously a seasoned writer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s written a novel in the past. She annotates her struggle at a perfect pace, and leads up to a fantastic climax of “coming out” to her husband. The simple “click” at the end of the story is incredibly powerful and a perfect way to end the story, nodding at the potential for a brighter future.

It’s tough to say which story was the least effective, because each worked in its own unique way. In terms of writing style, I think Ramos’ “Mexican in the Age of Trump” stood out the least. I appreciated the courage that it took Ramos to write the piece, and the humanization that it places on immigrants in the United States, but I think the story would have benefitted if she spent more time talking about her relationship with her family and the emotional toll that the F-1 visa requirements took on her.

I’d love to hear more from Aribisala on her current feelings about the neighborhood “grandmother” who conducted the egg ritual. Does she resent the woman for manipulating her and taking advantage of the ignorance of young girls? Does she ever want to go back and explain to the woman how the household affected her life? These are some unanswered questions that I was left with after reading her article.

These five stories gave a tremendous amount of insight on how opinion stories can be written to capture the attention of unsuspecting readers. I especially appreciated Aribisala’s use of flowery words, almost poetry, to convey intense emotions that would be otherwise left unsaid. Usually opinion writing assignments leave me somewhat stumped, as I have a hard time finding topics that others would be interested in. After reading these examples, however, I realize that the appropriate writing can empower any story.