James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.
Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco has talent. The Disaster Artist is his smudged valentine from one undaunted artist to another, an imperfect re-enactment of misplaced optimism. All of The Room’s perverse fun without the pain of watching it.
Franco ably directs and stars as Wiseau, a capital-C Character he’s too pretty to play. The real Tommy is closer to a bee-stung Gene Simmons, so Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau’s garbled Euro-slurring at times comes across as stoner speak. Yet there’s never doubt in Franco’s commitment to his subject’s inherent weirdness.
It’s what appeals to Greg Sestero, an aspiring but uninspired actor whose book informs The Disaster Artist. As played by Dave Franco, the director’s brother, Greg is a worshiper needing a hero when he sees Tommy literally climbing the walls in an acting class exercise. How much Greg and Tommy may parallel the Franco brothers’ dynamic is another meta-question to consider.
Greg is fascinated by this human-alien life form with grandiose ideas of becoming a romantic leading man from which Franco’s looks erase all irony; he is a leading man even in a fright wig. Tommy reveals nothing believable about himself, so when he proposes making their own movie, Greg goes along like always.
The Disaster Artist takes us inside The Room as it notoriously happened, a $6 million vanity project (and where the money came from is still anyone’s guess). Tommy proves himself entirely witless about filmmaking, buying equipment rather than renting, building an alley indoors instead of filming the real thing right outside. He’s Ed Wood with a checkbook.
Tommy’s barely patient cast and crew is headed by Seth Rogen’s script supervisor/ersatz director Sandy Schklair and Jacki Weaver as an actor saddled with a dead-end subplot. Franco utilizes The Room’s cult status to coax celebrities (Zac Efron, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith) into cameos playable by anyone, making them distractions.
Meanwhile, Greg’s new girlfriend (Alison Brie) disrupts his bromance with Tommy, lending pathos to the absurdity and threatening production. The adapted screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) attains a shaggy sentimentality bending fact into a happier ending.
The Room debuted at one Los Angeles theater, selling $1,200 in tickets during a one-week run. Wiseau’s "achievement" wasn’t immediately recognized for the unintended hoot it is. His delusion lasted longer than Franco’s take, not accepting until later that audiences were laughing at him, not with him.
Yet that sunnier-than-truth finale suits The Disaster Artist’s relentlessly cockeyed optimism. Franco doesn’t ask viewers to reconsider bad art but to respect the artist behind it. Sage advice from someone who, after a few career disasters, can still shape a movie this good.
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