UK Release Date: 6th December 2017
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: James Franco
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H Weber
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron
Synopsis: Enigmatic ‘actor’ Tommy Wiseau meets a hungry new performer and, after the pair move to LA together, they decide to make The Room, which would become possibly the worst film ever made.
I confess to being baffled by the popularity of The Room. Tommy Wiseau‘s bizarre drama, written with the goal of becoming the new Tennessee Williams, is certainly unusual and there’s a comic value in the more excessive moments. Outside of YouTube montages, though, there’s very little to recommend its narrative incoherence and oddball performances. It has amassed a real cult appeal over the years and it has now spawned a Hollywood comedy about its creative process. The Disaster Artist is a pleasing insight into a weird world of bad movie making.
James Franco is dead-eyed and funny-voiced as Wiseau, who catches the eye of budding actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) when he writhes around the stage in a bizarre take on A Streetcar Named Desire during an acting class. The duo soon move to Los Angeles together and, after several career setbacks, they decide to make a movie of their own. In short order, Tommy writes the script for The Room and, using his own mysterious money, the film gets going under the sarcastically watchful eye of script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), who can scarcely believe what the project goes on to become.
The Disaster Artist opens with a montage of celebrity talking heads recounting their own appreciation for The Room‘s singular production story and idiosyncratic creator. It’s a film that is made from a clear position of adoration, whether that’s a genuine love for Wiseau and his film or an ironic enjoyment of a ‘so bad, it’s good’ classic. This loving perspective informs James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau, which gives only glimpses of his more monstrous excesses and even engenders real sympathy for him in scenes set at the film’s ultimately raucous premiere.
Franco’s careful performance and equally sure-footed approach behind the camera ensures The Disaster Artist never encourages the audience to simply laugh at Wiseau and Sestero. Both men are portrayed as characters chasing their dreams despite a lack of talent, which is inspiring even if it’s not advisable. Wiseau is played as an all-consuming force that fills Sestero’s life, conveyed by younger Franco brother Dave as a nervous fascination that complicates his growing relationship with Alison Brie‘s sweet barmaid. The casting of real brothers deepens the playful dynamic and self-referential feel.
As anyone familiar with the work done by the comedy triangle of Franco-Rogen-Goldberg will be unsurprised to hear that The Disaster Artist has a very consistent hit rate in terms of laughs. It’s an often exceptionally funny film, whether it’s referencing the bizarro left turns of The Room or mining the mystery surrounding Wiseau’s age, nationality and bank balance. An encounter between Wiseau and Sestero’s mother, in which Franco deadpans about being the same age as his 19-year-old buddy, is a particular highlight.
The film bravely spends a lot of time exploring the relationship between the kindred creative spirits before it even arrives at the idea that would become The Room. When it does pitch up on set, the film amps up the laughs and delivers a series of memorable comedic set piece. Rogen is a real standout presence as the script supervisor and de facto director who is full of snarky asides and disbelieving exclamations as he watches the project spiral down the plughole of unmitigated crap. He provides much of the comedy and allows the audience in to the weird world of that set during the middle section, which is the strongest segment of the entire film.
Although it is largely a successful comedy film, The Disaster Artist has perhaps been elevated to heights it doesn’t deserve due to the movie world’s cult love for The Room. Franco and his team have turned in a very strong comedy movie with a real undercurrent of heart and an intriguing window into the making of a movie that is baffling at every level of its path to the screen. It isn’t, however, a future classic and it certainly isn’t among the best films of the year. The chances of Franco saying “oh hi Oscar” seem rather slim.
Pop or Poop?
James Franco has constructed an affecting tribute to a bizarre cult movie with The Disaster Artist, which is a consistent comedy that isn’t afraid to tug at the heartstrings when the opportunity arises. The performances are impressive and surprisingly nuanced given how easily they could have tumbled into caricature.
While the appeal of The Room remains a mystery, it’s clear why The Disaster Artist works. It’s a big, crowd-pleasing comedy that takes a sideways look at some seriously sideways filmmaking.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.