Principal Cast : James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Megan Mullaly, Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron, Andrew Santino, June Diane Raphael, Nathan Fielder.
Synopsis: 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.
“Oh, hai Mark.”
It’s hard to know where The Disaster Artist ends and The Room begins. James Franco’s spot-on recreation of the cult classic Hollywood failure of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, a 2003 “drama” that is genuinely regarded among the “worst films ever made” group, is both hilarious and alternately baffling: hilarious in that Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is hysterically believable and baffling in that it astounds me anyone would want to make this as a feature film. What The Disaster Artist is, however, is excellent. Unlike, say, the focus of its narrative.
Aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets fellow theatrical wannabe, the eccentric Tommy Wiseau (James Franco, who also directs), and after a period of not quite making their dreams come true move to Los Angeles to pursue their careers. Meeting resistance due largely to Tommy’s ego and sense of self-worth, the pair decide to make their own movie; Tommy writes a script for his “masterpiece” entitled “The Room” and, with an amazing flow of money coming from nowhere, hires a studio, actors and a production team to make his vision come to life. Along for the ride is actors Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor), Phillip Haldiman (Josh Hutcherson) and Carolyn Minnott (Jackie Weaver), all of whom are cast in Wiseau’s production, while script-supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) becomes almost the defacto director once the shambolic production begins to unravel.
The Disaster Artist is based on a biographical book written by The Room actor Greg Sestero, written in the aftermath of his role in that film’s creation. Adapted by screenwriters Scott Neustdadter and Michael H Weber (who were the scribes behind 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now), the form of The Disaster Artist plays things pretty straight, offering the audience a glimpse into the vagueries of Timmy Wiseau mainly through his extreme eccentricity and enormous ego, while Sestero, played by Dave Franco, becomes almost a patsy for Wiseau’s genuinely baffling behaviour. The Disaster Artist doesn’t strike me as an outright comedy with a missing laugh track, but an honest biopic that audiences will simply laugh at because it’s so utterly bizarre you’d never think these things actually happened.
This lure of sordid reality is what drives a lot of The Disaster Artist’s homage to Wiseau’s The Room. Technically, The Room is an appallingly awful film, but many people continue to talk about it, dissect it, or hold it in reverence typically only reserved for the likes of Ed Wood, schlock-meisters of the golden age of low-budget Hollywood filmmaking. As a film fan, any depiction of the making of a film – fictionalised or not – is compelling viewing, but to see such a sordid, problematic film be given such A-list focus by the Franco’s and Seth Rogen (not to mention Judd Apatow, who cameos in a restaurant scene) is fascinating not only to the process of making a film but the honestly of this blithering idiot’s hopes-and-dreams idealism. As with many films of this genre, the peek behind the curtain offers entertainment derived not only from the chaotic process Wiseau engages in but his blind belief that it’ll all work out somehow.
Spoilers: it doesn’t.
Although it gently pokes fun at Wiseau for The Room’s creation, The Disaster Artist also tries to work out the madness behind the man. Wiseau is infamously secretive, his past almost myth and his personal story a cobbling together of anecdotal evidence and largely unbelievable tales. To suggest this film succeeds in giving us an understanding of him would be wrong, because there’s something utterly impenetrable about Wiseau as a man and character that defies traditional analysis. James Franco’s portrayal might come off like some weird parody or drunken fever-dream but from what I’ve seen of the real Wiseau he pretty much nails it. Wiseau’s bizarre accent and schizophrenic behaviour, sidebar conversations and off-the-cuff raconteur modes all compile into a too-crazy-to-be-real homage of the persona behind the film’s narrative; Franco might be nuts, but the man he’s playing is even nuttier. Sidebar: you’ll be impressed to know that Wiseau himself signed off on this film, even being involved in a minor cameo during production, perhaps the most metatextual appearance by an actor-slash-Hollywood-mogul ever in a mainstream movie.
For his part, Dave Franco (James’ younger sibling) does a solid job as the always-astonished Greg Sestero, who can not only believe he’s friends with Wiseau or that he’s being brought along on this wild ride, but that he can barely hide his surprise that people are willing to go along with it all. Support roles to Brie Larsen, Josh Hutcherson and Jackie Weaver as the real life girlfriend of Sestero, and actors in The Room respectively, as well as a co-leading role to Seth Rogen as The Room production’s most heroic figure, provide the Franco brothers plenty of quality to bounce off, and the film’s period production quality is especially pleasing for its attention to detail. The Disaster Artist looks like it was shot in the early 2000’s as well. Kudos to cinematographer Brandon Trost (Crank: High Voltage, This Is The End, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) for the film’s orange-hued visual tone and earthy sensibility.
If I had a single chief criticism of the film, it’s this: one almost has to have an understanding of The Room for The Disaster Artist to make much sense. This film relies on its subject to land a lot of the humour and drama from its relatively brief running time. The symbiant nature of both films is among the true highlights of this film particularly, although if you haven’t seen The Room yet than much of Franco’s movie won’t mean a lot to you. In fact, I suspect most people who’ve yet to endure (or enjoy) The Room will nahht appreciate just how spot-on Franco, Franco, Rogen and the cast all get this. It’s a problem the film encounters in that in order to enjoy it you need familiarity with the subject, whereas good biopics often make one seek out the hitherto unknown because of its quality. It’s a small thing, but worth noting.
One of the key takeaways from The Disaster Artist isn’t so much that The Room was such an addled, confusion-riddled production, but that Tommy Wiseau’s genius was buried beneath incoherence and an inability to adequately share his vision with others. There’s also Wiseau’s ego to contend with, and the fact that he had all the gold meant he made all the rules, as bizarre as they often were. While The Room might be utter dogshit, Franco’s work on The Disaster Artist, from casting down to its on-point reproduction of The Room’s filming process, is a pleasing in almost every way. While the laughs stem from the utter insanity of what transpires rather than any specifically funny thing, The Disaster Artist provokes the question of what art really is, and how the hell Tommy Wiseau managed to utterly botch his movie from beginning to end. I guess talent counts for more than we think, right?