Make space for James Franco’s Disaster-piece
The Disaster Artist
Starring James Franco & Dave Franco
Directed by James Franco
The “disaster” of The Disaster Artist refers to a movie called The Room.
A massively misguided, famously incoherent mess-terpiece, The Room has been called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” and one of the best bad movies ever. An overwrought, completely off-the-rails romantic melodrama that achieved so-awful-it’s-great status soon after its release in 2003, it went on to find an obsessive, Rocky Horror-like cult following and make an unlikely celebrity of its creator, star, writer and director, the eccentric and enigmatic Tommy Wiseau.
Director James Franco plays Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, which is essentially the backstory of how The Room came to be. It’s based on the 2013 memoir of the same name by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s Room costar, played by Franco’s younger brother, Dave.
But the movie is also a “buddy story” about the peculiar friendship of Wiseau and Sestero, how the two aspiring actors met and the pact they made—a pinky promise at the crash site of James Dean’s Porsche speedster—to pursue their dream of success in Hollywood.
Actually, success in spite of Hollywood.
Wiseau, as depicted in the movie, is a most peculiar cat. He claims to be 19 but clearly looks to be somewhere far south of 40, and professes to be from Louisiana, although his mangled tin-ear English suggests Slavic roots. Wealthy enough—somehow—to own apartments in both San Francisco and Los Angeles and drive a Mercedes, he’s also intensely secretive. “Don’t talk about me, to anyone,” he cautions the younger Sestero.
With long, stringy, dyed-black hair, a droopy eye, pasty skin and an accent that often begs for subtitles, Wiseau has trouble convincing anyone he’s Hollywood leading-man material. It’s no wonder Sestero’s younger, hipper actor friends refer to him—only half joking—as a vampire.
Many celebrities are among The Room’s ardent fans, and a lot of them are sprinkled throughout The Disaster Artist. If you bring a scorecard, you’ll have to work fast to check off Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Zac Efron, Lizzy Caplan, Seth Rogen, Nathan For You Fielder, Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, J.J. Abrams, Ari Graynor, the real Greg Sestero, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zach Braff, Hannibal Buress, Randall Park, Paul Scheer, Jacki Weaver, Casey Wilson and more.
In a gusto, go-for-it performance, Franco almost disappears into his role. He gets plenty of laughs as the clueless Tommy, but he also brings a sensitivity and poignancy to his tragicomic depiction of the inscrutable, obsessive fanatic who refuses to let Hollywood—or anyone else—define him, or keep him down.
Franco has nearly 150 acting roles to his credit, and he’s directed 13 theatrical features and several documentaries (plus two episodes of the HBO series The Deuce, on which he also stars—as twin brothers). He’s also written for film and TV, and produced more than 65 movie projects. He knows filmmaking inside and out, and he also knows what it’s like to have a passion to do it all, to give his all, his everything.
He gets Tommy Wiseau.
The difference, of course, is that Franco’s got….well, creative gifts that Wiseau did not. Wiseau is fueled by an unstoppable drive and an unquenchable thirst, but he’s low on talent, high on delusion and oblivious to every obstacle in his path. He simply doesn’t understand why the world won’t accept him; that’s why he creates his own.
The Disaster Artist mixes its humor with heart, empathy with sympathy. It’s amusing—but also painful—to watch Wiseau throw himself into the maws of L.A.’s moviemaking machinery, even after being chewed up and rejected time and again.
“Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can happen,” one bigwig producer (Judd Apatow) tells him. “Not in a million years! And not after that, either.”
And so, The Room is born, as Wiseau and Sestero decide to take fate into their own hands and make their own film—a tale of an all-American (!) guy (Wiseau), his cheating girlfriend, his best friend (Sistero) and a web of deceit and betrayal that eventually ends in tragedy.
“What do you do if it turns out really bad? Really terrible?” Sestero’s bartender girlfriend (Alison Brie) asks him when he frets about Tommy’s lack of control over The Room’s mounting production woes. “Can you take if off your IMDB?”
No one could have predicted The Room—which originally opened in one theater, on one screen, for two weeks—would go on to find such a thriving second life and inspire legions of ardent fans.
Or that James Franco and a gaggle of Hollywood stars would make one of the year’s most riotously enjoyable films, about how a “disastrous” script, inept actors and an incompetent director somehow stumbled into the creation of such an enduring slice of pop culture.
If you’ve seen The Room, you’ll totally dig The Disaster Artist. And if you haven’t, don’t worry—you’ll still appreciate Franco’s audacious high-wire act, a quirky tribute to outsiders everywhere and a celebration of a particularly bizarre moment in Hollywood-outsider footnote history. This tale of a crazy, against-the-odds transformation of trash into treasure is a really good movie about a really bad one.
In theaters Dec. 1, 2017