Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Director: James Franco
Running Time: 109 mins
Synopsis: In 2003 a small independent film was released upon the world, The Room. Routinely classed as one of the worst films ever made it has since built a cult following. The Disaster Artist details the making of said classic, following enigmatic, supremely odd creator Tommy Wiseau (Franco) and best friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as they challenge all pre-conceptions to produce a Hollywood legend.
The Room, regularly voted one of the worst films of all time but gaining a huge cult following thanks to its sheer awfulness, flat line readings and uniquely strange lead actor, one Tommy Wiseau. So iconic has it become that big directors such as Edgar Wright routinely host lavish screenings with other Hollywood power players to laugh, guffaw and generally rip the shit out of it. Still, with such infamy, you’d be hard pressed to think a film detailing it’s creation would be worth a watch, especially with James Franco both directing and starring. Now this is not meant to be a slight on Franco, who is usually an interesting unpredictable performer, but in recent years he had started to slip into self-parody. His pretension and general douchey nature gave him a distinct whiff of roll your eyes boredom, further exacerbated when stories emerged that he was directing The Disaster Artist entirely in character. Unexpectedly this seems to have paid off big time, Franco conjuring an intimate utterly unusual character piece that both tickles the funny bone and stirs the heart.
Vitally the film does not follow Tommy Wiseau but rather the man at his side, Greg Sestero. Played with a mixture of naive bemusement and tortured generosity towards his kooky friend, Dave Franco (yes James’s real life brother) is terrific as the ‘along-for-the-ride’ Greg. Attempting to tread the boards in local amateur dramatics in San Francisco, despite his utter lack of stage confidence, he stumbles across Tommy one night as he performs a death scene of such brash over-dramatics that it pushes Greg into believing that this man, although lacking in talent, has the cojones to completely commit. Right from the off you are either on board with James Franco’s performance or not. Those who’ve seen The Room (believe me you do not have to see it prior to this-I didn’t-but a working knowledge helps) will realise though that this is no OTT portrayal, the real Tommy Wiseau is exactly like this.
Uncomfortable on the eyes, with his sunken face, piercing eyes and dreadful hair, and even more uncomfortable on the ears. Tommy has what can only be described as a subtly Eastern European accent despite continuous, and hilarious, claims that he is from New Orleans. But one that is exacerbated in its weirdness with his bemusing voice patterns. There is a frequent lack of full sentences in his dialogue, given him a fragmented almost childlike manner. It is at once endearing and utterly silly. Wiseau is such an enigma, even to this day nobody knows where he came from or where he gets his huge wealth from. This becomes instrumental in the relationship that dominates the film, that of Tommy and Greg. Both are determined in their desire to make a name for themselves in the movies, and the way each rises through time with the other is warmly sketched. Tommy finds companionship in Greg, something that he has not known before (most likely due to his sheer batshit crazy nature), and Greg gains a confidence of spirit through Tommy’s complete lack of self-awareness. As events escalate and tensions fracture between them, it becomes akin to a romance in their jealousies and anger towards one another.
James Franco is so transfixing as Tommy. I’m sure some will be put off by the incessant inflections and surreal moments but at all times Franco works hard to find the truth underneath. Key to the film’s success is that Wiseau is never the butt of the joke. Yes he is mocked, teased and shown with all his flaws but the film steers clear of judging him. We get a real sense of the sensitive vulnerabilities bubbling underneath the surface. Tommy is not a bad man, he is simply a man driven by a steadfast belief in himself, who just so happens to be bad at what he believes he can do. Despite all the posturing and pretension Franco has been known for in the past, The Disaster Artist has a powerful message that we can be who we want to be, no matter what others may say, but it just may take on forms we cannot anticipate. The way Franco drills into the sadness of this mysterious man is heartbreaking at times, and I wouldn’t be against calling him up for a Best Actor nomination come Oscar time.
Beyond the focus of its character work, The Disaster Artist is also pretty pertinent on how low budget films get made. We routinely see infamous scenes getting filmed, with little details in the background helping this to feel like a living breathing delve into movie-making. Not just that but the sheer dankness of filming low budget too, we see battles with lack of facilities, cheap sets and in one deeply uncomfortable moment the flagrant sexism sadly still prevalent in the industry. Wisely Franco has surrounded himself with some familiar comedic faces, with particular attention on Seth Rogen, being Seth Rogen of course but graced with the funniest material as Wiseau’s exasperated script supervisor. Cameos abound too, from Judd Apatow as an angry version of himself to Bob Odenkirk in a silly hat for some reason. Unfortunately female characters get the short shrift here with the only one making any real impression being Alison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend, but even she can only do so much with such thin material.
As director though Franco doesn’t do a half bad job. Pacing the film well, balancing the laughs and pathos with comfortable control. He also resists the temptation to reenact all the classic scenes, opting to select a few choice moments in order to showcase a slightly unhinged man desperately try to implement his vision (although he does offer a nice scene by scene comparison over the credits). It also, as mentioned previously, will not be to everyone’s taste, especially those unaware of anything about The Room, never spending the time to absorb newcomers. Come the end though it’d be a hard person not to well up at this paean to creative ambition, the notion that anybody can achieve anything, all it takes is courage and just a small piece of madness.
Verdict: The Disaster Artist is a fascinating glimpse at a fascinating character, one completely inhabited by a never better James Franco. By equal turns funny, tragic, and heartfelt, with a supporting cast that kills. See it then immediately see The Room.