The Disaster Artist review: The best of times, the worst of times
James Franco is excellent in the real-life story of the worst film in cinema
James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist
Film Title: The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith
Running Time: 104 min
Released in 2003 to zero acclaim, The Room has subsequently garnered a reputation as the Citizen Kane of bad movies, a cult sensation among those who cheer on its many unrelated subplots and tangents, it’s strange outbreaks of football, and, most of all, its writer-director and star, Tommy Wiseau.
The heavily-accented auteur remains one of the movieverse’s great mysteries. Despite his decidedly Polish-sounding intonation, Wiseau insists he hails from France or Louisiana. He ploughed at least $6 million of his own money into the production, promotion, and release of The Room. Nobody knows where the cash came from. Nobody knows his age.
It’s a tribute to James Franco’s skills as an actor and director that his depiction of Wiseau is simultaneously hilarious and endearing. Adapted from the award-winning 2013 memoir The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made, Franco’s 14th film as director casts brother Dave Franco (excellent) as Greg Sestero, the line producer and star of The Room.
Greg first encounters Tommy Wiseau at an acting class, where the enigmatic out-of-towner may or may not be riffing on A Streetcar Named Desire as he literally and figuratively scales the walls. The pair become friends and move to Los Angeles where, inevitably, the millionaire already owns a pied-à-terre. Several failed and excruciating auditions later, Tommy decides to write and direct his own movie. A baffled and occasionally horrified crew, including Greg, watch as Tommy directs himself in sex scenes and bellows his way through such memorable dialogue as “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
As with Tim Burton’s zany, fond Ed Wood biopic, The Disaster Artist highlights the absurdity of Wiseau and his magnum opus by casting much better actors (Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efon) in The Room’s sketchy roles. But what might have been a patronising party-piece or the Z-movie version of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, is tempered by James Franco’s weird, wonderful Wiseau, a consummate outsider artist who has plenty of passion if little discernable aptitude for his craft.
As a filmmaker, Franco has often tended toward high or performance art. See his 2014 adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Or Interior Leather Bar, in which he attempts to recreate the 40 minutes of deleted and lost sexually explicit footage from the 1980 film Cruising. Or his collaborations with conceptual artist Marina Abramovic. He’s equally at home in the goofy stoner comedies of David Gordon Green (Your Highness, Pineapple Express). The Disaster Artist allows for both these Francos to shine.