Running TIme: 109 minutes
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver
When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.
Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2 and Fateful Findings. All of these films have one thing in common. Each film has gone down in infamy over how terrible they are but over time their notoriety has gained an appreciation and cult following. Made with the belief and intention that they were making something truly special, it takes a special kind of filmmaker to have such blind overconfidence. One such filmmaker is Tommy Wiseau.
In 2003 he released The Room, a film described by Entertainment Weekly as being “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”. The independent drama tells the story of a melodramatic love triangle between banker Johnny (played by Wiseau), his girlfriend Lisa and his best friend Mark. Critically mauled on its initial release, over the years the film gained a cult following on the midnight film circuit and to this day is screened regularly in major cities all over the world.
With this backhanded success, one of the films main stars, Greg Sestero released his memoirs in 2013. Titled, The Disaster Artist, the book focused on his life and time making The Room. This fascinating behind the scenes insight into the film forms the basis for James Franco’s latest release of the same name.
As with the book, the film opens with Greg trying to break his way into the world of acting. During an acting class, he struggles to make his way through a scene as his nerves get the better of him. Then the strange figure Tommy makes his way onto the stage for his rendition of the famous “Stella!” scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. His “creative” interpretation is unquestionably awful but there is also something enthralling about it too.
After class Greg approaches Tommy with the proposition that they should be scene partners. It is from here that they form an unusual friendship which takes them to Hollywood where they struggle to make it into the acting business. With constant rejection, they hatch the idea to make a film of their own. It is from here that the film follows the disaster-laden production of The Room.
When watching The Disaster Artist it is difficult to not draw parallels between it and the fantastic Tim Burton film, Ed Wood. Both present characters who were absolutely adamant that the films they were making would be outstanding works of art that would stand the test of time (and to an extent they were right). It is here where The Disaster Artist really works.
It is not just a pumped up remake of The Room but a film that as well as having plenty of laughs, has genuine heart. Tommy has an infallible belief that with The Room that he is making a piece of drama on a par with Tennessee Williams. Watching how this belief warps and changes him into an abrasive and difficult character is somewhat tragic as it puts a serious amount of strain on his friendship with Greg. In a strange way, it can be argued that this aspect of the film draws just as many parallels with La La Land as it does with Ed Wood.
This can also be seen when looking at the script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who structure the relationship between Tommy and Greg like a stereotypical romantic comedy which in and of itself should be a cause for concern given the oddball nature of Tommy. However, as the film progresses any fears of dark ulterior motives are quickly cast aside as it establishes that Tommy is just a lonely outsider with a dream. The homoerotic undertones of the script only come to the fore when Tommy begins to become jealous of Greg’s minor successes.
What is clear from the film is that Franco has a great love and admiration for the source material. Under his direction, he creates a charming comedy that is a far cry from his drab adaptations of Faulkner and Steinbeck. Gone too are the extended scenes of improvised comedy that have been synonymous with his films, in favor of a much more tight film that moves along at a great pace (which may be a detriment to fans of the book).
In the role of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, James Franco gives a career-best performance which is as poignant as it is hilarious. Under some prosthetics, he transforms himself into Wiseau with an unusual Slavic accent (despite claiming to be from New Orleans). Immersed in the role, Franco embodies Wiseau’s overconfidence and will stop at nothing to be a success even to the detriment of his relationship with others.
Playing opposite him as his best friend Greg, Dave Franco is great as well. He stays true to his friend despite warnings from his mother and other friends, even to the point that it costs him work as an actor. The audience shares in his horror as the disastrous production of The Room edges closer and closer to falling off a cliff. The fact that himself and James Franco are brothers works in the film’s favor as they have great chemistry on screen.
In other supporting roles, Seth Rogan is a particular highlight as script supervisor Sandy who acts as a proxy for the audience questioning every ludicrous decision Tommy makes on set. Other memorable cameos sprinkled throughout the film include the likes of Sharon Stone, Bryan Cranston and Zac Efron.
As funny as it is charming, The Disaster Artist is one of the best comedies of the year. It not only looks at the art of making a ‘good’ bad movie but explores the crazy and somewhat tragic world of Tommy Wiseau in a piece of work that has a great affinity for its source material and is underpinned by terrific performances.