Franco Files: THE DISASTER ARTIST Film Review

By at December 9, 2017 | 3:15 pm | Print

4.5 / 5 stars

It makes sense that James Franco, an actor known for the occasional eccentric act, would make a movie about a guy who practically defines eccentricity. That guy is Tommy Wiseau, a curiosity whose indescribably awful 2003 film, The Room, has turned infamy to fame, and turned Franco into Wiseau—at least for 100 onscreen minutes. And just about every one of those minutes is a bizarre joy.

The Disaster Artist preview movie poster

Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist is a Franco meta mix, a finely directed comedy about a filmmaker with zero directing skills. It’s a movie marked by wonderful performances about a movie marred by horribly bad acting. At the center is Franco directing and starring as the mysterious, confident, painfully out-of-place Wiseau (a director and star in his own right, I suppose). With prosthetics, sunglasses, and fine mimicry, Franco embodies Wiseau’s energy, but there’s something more: Franco is crafting Wiseau into a cinema character. If you’ve ever heard the real Wiseau tell of his own life or philosophies, it’s clear that creating a character is his daily MO.

With an evident dedication to copying and adding color to Wiseau, it’s funny that the real star of The Disaster Artist is not James Franco, but brother Dave Franco. Seven years younger, Dave plays Greg Sestero, a sweet, impressionable wannabe actor who discovers a loving kinship with Wiseau. Greg is the reality in Wiseau’s cuckoo universe, and eventually a victim of his indefinably weird ego. (In real life, Sestero co-stars in The Room, and ultimately co-wrote the book, The Disaster Artist, about that experience.)

It’s easy to overlook Dave Franco’s performance simply because it doesn’t require the intense affect and ranting that his brother’s demands. But Dave Franco drives the movie, portraying Greg as Tommy’s “normal” conscience and taking us on the film’s true story arc. It reminds me of Tom Cruise’s responsibility in Rain Man: The guy we’ve really come to see (in that case, Dustin Hoffman as Raymond) has limited emotional output and is incapable of change. Well, in The Disaster Artist, Tommy is the guy we’ve come to see, and he suffers the same limitations. The guy who plays the more adaptable character makes the movie work.

Scene from The Disaster Artist

That said, both performances are sweet and hilarious, as is the tight, unassuming script from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, The Fault In Our Stars). Put down and shut away from the Hollywood mainstream, Tommy and Greg decide to produce their own movie, which Tommy writes by himself in a satiric montage of the tortured artist, typing in bed while eating ramen.

What follows is a treat: Greg accepting the fateful role of “Mark” in The Room; the guys giddily securing equipment, cast, and crew; Tommy’s ineptitude as an actor and his ridiculous demands. As a director, Franco has excellent control of The Disaster Artist’s tone, and creates the right balance between The Myth of Tommy and the thrill of seeing regular people react to the strange dreamer with the I-just-can’t-place-it accent. The sequence in which the film’s first public audience slowly realizes—and accepts—the idiocy of The Room is a complete delight.

As Wiseau, Franco keeps reminding his peers that they’re making a “real Hollywood movie” despite the final result being to the contrary. Or is it? With an increasingly lower barrier of entry, can’t you and I make our own feature? Just because it’s bad doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong—ultimately, and without irony, that’s what Neustadter, Weber, and Franco are saying about Tommy Wiseau, and probably about all of us.

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