The Disaster Artist
Two would-be actors, of questionable ability, meet in a small-time San Francisco acting class and begin a friendship that will take them to Hollywood’s doorstep and into the weird and wild beyond! At once irreverently humorous and surprisingly warm, James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST is arguably the pinnacle (to date) of the high profile actor’s directorial career. Anyone who has even just hovered around the edges of the so-bad-it’s-good trashploitation cinema circuit will know the name Tommy Wiseau, and his cult 2003 film THE ROOM—as cinema studies academic Ross Morin memorably put it to Entertainment Weekly, “the CITIZEN KANE of bad movies”! But knowledge of the subjects, and their car-crash cinematic feat, is not a prerequisite to enjoying James Franco’s take on their story; THE DISASTER ARTIST abounds with enough heart and humour (as well as a recognisable cast of Franco-orbit regulars) that it should have broad appeal to anyone in need of a good laugh or an inspiring, out-of-left-field tale of friendship and the triumph of the underdog.
Adapted from Greg Sestero’s 2013 biographical account of the same name, Franco and co. dig deep into his friendship with Wiseau and the fever-dream that was the making of THE ROOM, a film now lovingly regarded as one of the best-worst movies of all time. As with other such projects, one of the keys to longevity seems to be the genuine passion of the creators to make something good. THE DISASTER ARTIST uncovers the first time filmmaker’s anarchic production process and uncovers the inner workings of this mad genius-in-his-own-mind as, against all expectations, he works his vision into a finished film.
In this respect Tommy Wiseau reminds of the likes of unlikely filmmaker Ed Wood (of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE infamy), whose life was memorably examined in Tim Burton’s 1994 comedy-biopic ED WOOD. Cloaked in mystery, Tommy Wiseau also presents a rich subject for exploration. As THE DISASTER ARTIST outlines, three major facts remain unanswered to this day:
1. Where does Tommy come from?
2. How old is he?
3. What is the source of his considerable financial resource (Wiseau personally bankrolled his film to the tune of a seven figure budget)?
Wiseau has consistently presented himself as being an “all American guy” from New Orleans, yet he sports a strange, strongly Eastern European flavoured accent and refuses to discuss any specifics relating to his background.
James Franco sinks himself into the role of Tommy Wiseau with great relish and locks dramatic horns with his younger brother Dave Franco, as co-lead Greg Sestero. The pairing works out well as the brothers share good chemistry while not being obviously related, though James-Tommy is the much bigger screen presence whenever he’s in front of the camera. The elder Franco apparently went ‘method’ throughout the shoot, not coming out of character while on set. In a cast interview, Alison Brie (who plays Greg’s girlfriend Amber) mentioned the confusion this caused. Things apparently got very ‘meta’, with James-Tommy directing the cast and crew of THE DISASTER ARTIST… including himself as Tommy, a character who is on the set of the making of a movie-within-the-movie, directing a cast and crew of actors… including himself as lead ‘Johnny’ in their fictionalised version of THE ROOM. Confused yet? Brie mentioned that on set they didn’t know if the direction was coming from ‘Tommy’ for ‘THE ROOM crew’ or James-Tommy for THE DISASTER ARTIST crew! #roomception Still, no one seems to be saying that Franco disappeared up his own arse in the way of some method performances, like, say, Jim Carrey when playing Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman’s MAN ON THE MOON (1999). Although, having just seen the Netflix ‘making of’ documentary, JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND – FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL, CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON (I know!), the two films do share a somewhat similar sensibility.
You’ve got to take your hat off to James Franco: he commits to the role of Tommy, a larger than life character in his own right, with great verve and not a little skill. Indeed, if you stay for the end credits—and I highly recommend that you do, right to the gem of a stinger at the very end—you’ll be treated to a split screen rendering of all our favourite THE ROOM scenes, with the original and THE DISASTER ARTIST reconstructions playing side by side. It is scary how close they get (even if James Franco does fall afoul of the slightly over-extended “naahhht” like the rest of us do in our own impersonations—ROOM fans, you know what I’m talking about!)
The central cast is peppered with Franco-Orbit Hollywood types (Seth Rogen and Ari Graynor), comedians (Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder), and some leftfield dramatic actors like Australian actress Jacki Weaver, playing the actress playing Lisa’s mother, or Sharon Stone as a talent agent who picks up Greg as a client when the pair first arrive in L.A. And, as such films inevitably are, THE DISASTER ARTIST is jam-packed with cameos (plenty of film geek fun to be had spotting the celebrity). Though it is worth pointing out that many of these cameos really are excellently employed: such as Judd Apatow playing a version of himself in a fantastically awkward scene where Tommy receives some honest critique in a crowded restaurant, and what seems like a true Greg Sestero interaction with MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE era Bryan Cranston, which leads to a crisis point in the lead pair’s friendship.
Occasionally some of the incidents in the screenplay feel more hammed up than is necessary but for the most part the filmmakers strike a great balance between humour and pathos. THE DISASTER ARTIST way well be a car-crash exploitation biopic but it is also damned funny, respectful of its source material, and ultimately quite moving. And this is what makes THE DISASTER ARTIST more than simply THE ROOM aficionado fanservice: the emotional centre of the film is the story of these two unlikely, underdog friends chasing after their dreams. Good stuff.
Rating: M Offensive language.