The Disaster Artist
Directed by: James Franco
Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen
Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality, nudity
1 hr. 44 min.
Impossibly bad movies have a tendency to achieve cult status; chic gems of glaring incompetence; vulgar spectacles of base-level yet earnest stupidity. At first you’re embarrassed to be caught laughing at these films, and hold back, as if suppressing a giggle in church. The Disaster Artist is the true tale of such a film (2003’s The Room) and it’s galactically eccentric, would-be auteur, Tommy Wiseau.
Adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, from a book by Wiseau’s friend Greg Sestero (written with Ted Bissell), the accidental humor of Wiseau’s The Room is matched by the uproarious story behind its making. James Franco, in another notable directorial effort, also assumes the role and idiosyncrasies of Tommy (“Never Tom!”). That’s to say, Franco as Wiseau resembles Matt Dillon in Singles by way of Tiny Tim (the late singer, not the Dickens character), with the verbal characteristics of either Borat or Tarzan on prescription cough syrup. The real-life Tommy looks like former college basketball coach Rick Pitino in a Yoko Ono wig, circa 1969. But that’s picking nits.
The Disaster Artist opens in 1998, with Sestero (Franco’s brother Dave) and Tommy in a Bay Area acting class where they show talent on a level below that of the average third-grade Christmas pageant. They’re awful, but driven.
The two become friends and, through Tommy’s seemingly endless supply of unaccounted-for cash, make their way from San Francisco to L.A. and the fulfillment of their thespian dreams. The only hitch is that as Sestero improves, wooing a girlfriend along the way (played by Dave Franco’s actual wife, Alison Brie, of Mad Men and GLOW fame), Tommy remains a mystery man, laughingly devoid of ability, who mangles every accented line of dialogue that burbles through his lips. He claims to be from New Orleans, but the Big Easy would thoroughly disavow that — in reality or the film. James Franco’s utterances are like those of someone speaking an Eastern European language after having suffered blunt-force trauma. It adds to the hilarity.
Frustrated by constant (and much warranted) rejection, Wiseau writes The Room, finishing it in 2001. He insists that Sestero read it in one sitting. Of course it’s excruciatingly terrible, but Sestero goes along with it, and soon filming begins.
Reaching into his extraordinarily deep pockets to fund this effort, Tommy also produces and directs. The result is appalling, disjointed, his acting like watching Patty Duke as Helen Keller in the opening scenes of The Miracle Worker, running amok, thrashing about, flipping plates and screaming. And the result? The Room is so bad, the laughter cannot be controlled.
The cast and crew — played marvelously by Ari Graynor as the leading lady and producer Judd Apatow’s go-to guys Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer (Apatow himself has a cameo) — can barely contain their incredulousness or their sarcastic zingers. Lois Weaver, as an actress playing a grandmother, puts their collective attitudes in perspective when she says, “The worst day on a movie set is better than the best day doing something else.” Opening to mostly empty seats in 2003, The Room went on to become a midnight camp classic, on a par with Ed Wood’s movies or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, sans toast throwers.
Wiseau has a brief appearance in The Disaster Artist. He says that he likes 99.9 percent of it . . . there’s an issue with some of the lighting (!). And shouldn’t he approve? Horrible acting, writing and directing do not usually yield a man such as Wiseau such fruit. James Franco is the true talent, for his direction and spot-on embodiment of the protagonist. Wiseau himself is like the tale of the hummingbird. The laws of physics and aerodynamics tell us that the hummingbird should not be able to take flight. Not knowing this, it flies. As does The Disaster Artist.