Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Best of 2017, #4: The Disaster Artist

As a general rule, audiences find it hard to care about losers. It’s even worse if it’s a jerk-loser. Our heart might go out to a nice-guy-loser, or we might admire the success of a jerk-winner despite the fact that he’s an asshole, but jerk-losers are the worst of all possible worlds, right?

And yet this movie presents a jerk-loser who is easy to care for, and even admire. How does it do that? There are always way to make characters easier to care about, even if they have a lot of liabilities:

  • He’s passionate. We like Tommy right away when he over-emotes in acting class, then we like him even more when he forces his classmate Greg to act a scene loudly while eating in a restaurant, overcoming his fear of audiences. Passion goes a long way. We admire his daring, even when he dares to do something badly.
  • He’s active. Nevertheless, our admiration for Tommy’s passion peters out before too long as it become clear that he’s talentless, belligerent, and impervious to reality. Just when we can’t take it anymore he earns our admiration back in the most reliable way: He solves his problems by being very, very active. Luckily, he has a mysterious fortune, and decides to use to make his own starring vehicle.
  • He’s ironic. After his horribleness on set, if Tommy succeeded traditionally, we would take offense, because we don’t like to see bad behavior rewarded, but it’s hard to complain when he wins in such an ironic fashion, achieving fame and fortune by making the worst movie of all time.
  • He’s not the POV character. Who is the hero of this movie? Tommy is an active-jerk-loser, whereas Greg is a passive-nice-guy-loser. Neither is ideal, to put it mildly, but together they get the job done. We identify with Greg, but find Tommy to be compelling.

The result is a wonderful stand-up-and-cheer movie about two losers failing so utterly that they make the world a happier place to be.

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