THE DISASTER ARTIST
Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jerrod Carmichael, Jason Mantzoukas, Zac Efron, Bob Odenkirk
The other night I watched the cult classic film The Room from Tommy Wiseau. The 2003 film is notoriously lauded as one of the worst films of all time. I can attest that the rhetoric behind it is unquestionably true. The performances are terrible, the dialogue is laughable, and there are continuity errors and focusing problems throughout. It’s one of those midnight movies you watch with a crowd to laugh with and revel in its lunacy. I was watching it alone and could barely make my way through it. I blame actor James Franco for putting me through the mess the first time, and now I blame him for wanting to watch it all over again.
Franco’s latest cinematic experiment is directing and starring in The Disaster Artist where he plays Tommy Wiseau in a behind-the-scenes look at what led to the making of The Room. When you watch that film with the knowledge of its cultural legacy, you can’t help but wonder what could possibly have led to this being a full-fledged movie. Franco’s film begins years before The Room became a reality. Tommy was attending an acting class, and his particularly unique take on Stanley Kowalski garners the attention of Greg Sestero, played by James’ brother Dave Franco. Greg struggles with opening up on stage and thinks Tommy’s influence may just be the kick in the pants he needs to break out of his shell.
A budding friendship forms when Greg’s blind intrigue clouds his judgment. Tommy’s an odd guy claiming he’s from New Orleans but his accent would say otherwise. He’s mysterious about his past, what he does for a living, and his lack of social skills would raise eyebrows to anyone else. Yet, Greg is so desperate to get his big Hollywood break that he lets Tommy convince him to move to Los Angeles to start their careers. A couple of years pass and their friendship is rocky. Tommy decides that in order to get noticed he needs to make his own movie. He’s determined to make “the greatest drama since Tennessee Williams.” That film we now know is The Room with Greg playing the other male lead. You can probably ascertain from this film’s title what the filmmaking process was like.
James Franco has spent his career in front of and behind the camera whether he acts, directs, or writes his own projects. He’s done big blockbusters, indies, television, and everything in between. He’s ambitious, to say the least, and The Disaster Artist may just be one of his best projects to date. I was hesitant if Franco could take on playing Wiseau initally. They don’t really have similar features or even play the same kinds of roles. I’ve always felt Franco is a better character actor than when he’s trying to play straight-laced. It’s hard not to snicker when watching Wiseau, which makes Franco’s job harder as the actor portraying him. Playing Wiseau could easily slip into caricature acting turning him into a Saturday Night Live character, but Franco wisely never goes too far in his portrayal. He knows exactly how to keep his acting grounded even when Wiseau seems to be marching to the beat of his own drum.
Franco’s double duty as the director plays well into the meta-sensibility as Wiseau did the same for his movie. Franco knows his core audience is intrigued and passionate about Wiseau. He keeps that same affection in tact with telling this story. It’s shaped around Gerg Sestero’s book of the same name and gives each character their due. It never felt salacious as if Franco’s poking fun at Wiseau behind his back. He’s adamant about showing the vulnerable sides to both men making you question if their friendship would last the making of The Room. If we didn’t see Wiseau with his guard down, he wouldn’t be a likeable or misunderstood type of guy. There’s almost this Stockholm Syndrome vibe, at first glance, where it feels like Sestero is trapped into his friendship with Wiseau. Their friendship and working relationship ebbs and flows to a point I didn’t see coming.
It’s a great project for both Franco brothers, as they both understand the plight of trying to make a living as actors when one is more successful than the other. The rest of the film is a family affair as Dave Franco’s wife, actress Alison Brie, plays his girlfriend in the film. Their Neighbors cohorts Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Jerrod Carmichael also appear as cast and crew of The Room. This company of actors has made a career in stoner comedies, and I’m hoping this shows a progression in what we can expect from their next outing. The Disaster Artist showcases maturity for them as artists that we don’t often see. Make sure to stay through the credits as they show an uncanny side-by-side comparison of them recreating The Room. You’ll recognize other faces like Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, and Bryan Cranston all making cameos. It’s really a who’s who and shows the depth of Wiseau’s legacy.
The Disaster Artist shies away from just being fan service for those who have followed the trials and tribulations of The Room since it’s release. Franco makes his film accessible for those who haven’t seen that movie or know its legacy. He effectively presents a character study of Tommy Wiseau and has the audience shaking its head along the way, as it’s almost too bizarre to be true. The movie could be titled “The Con Artist” as I don’t know if there’s anyone that knows the true Wiseau. Don’t expect Franco to have the answers either. Maybe that’s the genius of Wiseau, and Franco captures that through and through.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A surprisingly fresh look at a rotten movie.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS