'The Disaster Artist'
Writer/director/star/entrepreneur/belt enthusiast Tommy Wiseau and his magnum opus of ineptitude known as ‘The Room’ have been a peculiar cultural fascination over the last decade. A movie about them was inevitable. Rather than a sneering documentary, director/star James Franco made a comedic Oscar season bio-pic that positions Wiseau as an outsider artist and sympathetic lost soul. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Against all odds, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is one of the best movies of 2017 and arguably features James Franco’s finest performance.
Based on the novel of the same name by Greg “Oh Hai Mark” Sestero, the film unfolds not from the broken perspective of Wiseau, but the actor who co-starred in his infamous train wreck. In a hilarious bit of sibling casting, Dave Franco stars as Greg. He’s a not particularly talented actor, but he’s just attractive enough to catch the eye of the occasional casting agent. He meets Tommy in an acting class where he’s blown away by the mysterious stranger’s ability to cut loose on stage. They form an uneasy and bizarre friendship. We get glimpses of football matches, peculiar bonding with children, and other little nuggets that will find their way into Tommy’s big movie. Other legends like Wiseau’s mysterious fortune and unconfirmed origin pop up as well, with the former landing the pair an expensive L.A. apartment to pursue their dreams. After a variety of humiliations that make it clear neither of them is going anywhere in show business, Tommy eventually writes a script that they can both star in and then starts shooting. If you’ve heard any tales of woe from the set of ‘The Room’, you’ll get them here alongside plenty of footage of the original disaster meticulously (and hilariously) recreated by the Francos.
Possibly the best thing about ‘The Disaster Artist’ is its tone. Obviously, the movie has to be funny. Given the subject matter and the wall-to-wall cameo cast of comedian ‘Room’ aficionados that Franco lined up (including Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and Paul Scheer among others), it’s no shock that laughs come constantly and furiously. I mean, the story is ridiculous and everyone knows it. However, they all have tremendous affection for the movie that’s surprising and welcome. As game as Franco is to make you giggle at Wiseau, he also admires the guy in an odd way. The film presents Wiseau as someone who attempted to make a movie from his gut and on his own terms as a way to cope with personal trauma, but just had no idea of how to write one, shoot it, or act, not to mention how to relate to people. There’s sadness and tragedy in how Wiseau is shown, in addition to all the inevitable hilarity. By the end, you actually sympathize with Tommy and cheer on the film’s ironic appreciation because it means in some perverse way that Wiseau’s art was appreciated. That’s quite a magic trick for Franco’s film to pull off.
All the performances are delightful, but James Franco steals the show as Tommy. How could he not? It’s almost impossible not to impersonate Wiseau after seeing ‘The Room’. Franco does that perfectly – meticulously even, delivering beat-for-beat recreations of the cinematic disaster’s greatest hits. Beyond that, he finds a humanity in all the oddness. He doesn’t add anything that isn’t there or pander for praise like so many previous bio-pics. Instead, he plays the walking enigma that is Tommy Wiseau with a pained soul beneath a bizarre exterior that’s partly constructed and partly pure. He’s a sweet and charming lost child doing his best in a world he doesn’t understand. Again, James Franco communicates these complicated characterizations while perfectly impersonating camp icon Tommy Wiseau. That almost shouldn’t be possible.
Will any of this appeal to someone who isn’t already part of the cult of Tommy Wisseau and ‘The Room’? Possibly. The movie isn’t quite as endearing a statement on lovable outsiders finding a home through art as Tim Burton’s ‘Ed Wood’. This is a very specific character study that will be fascinating for those who hold a place in their heart for weirdoes. But let’s face facts, a movie about the making of ‘The Room’ was always intended to appeal to a niche crowd. They’ll eat it up. If you can appreciate the great and delightful irony that James Franco gave arguably his finest performance and delivered his best work as a director by making a film about the most notoriously awful actor/filmmaker of the era, and did it all in character as the walking punchline, then a) we can be friends and b) get thee to ‘The Disaster Artist’ immediately.