The Disaster Artist is not a perfect film, though it's in its minor imperfections that the film shares a kindred spirit with the vastly inferior to the point of laughably bad Tommy Wiseau film The Room upon which it is based.
Directed by and starring James Franco, The Disaster Artist is actually about the making of 2003's The Room, a film that is so incredibly shockingly bad that the only thing more shocking is that Wiseau spent an estimated $6 million of his own money to make the film.
It feels incredibly appropriate that Franco would be drawn to this project, himself being a rather mystifying Hollywood presence capable of both acting brilliance (James Dean, Pineapple Express, 127 Hours) and cinematic abominations (Your Highness and just about every romantic lead he's ever played). The truth is that Franco is an actor who, strangely enough, can't seem to fake his way through a performance that he doesn't find emotionally or intellectually stimulating.
I mean, seriously, I'm still having nightmares about Franco's co-hosting of the Academy Awards.
Franco's most unpredictable yet satisfying work has come from his relentless dedication as both an actor and director to such low-budget and edgy projects as The Ape, Good Time Max, Sal, Bukowski, and a host of other features and shorts that have emphasized artistic integrity over such relatively trivial matters as box-office impact. It's almost inevitable that you've either loved or hated Franco's indie work, but love it or hate it it's where Franco's greatest artistry has been put on display and where one can truly feel Franco's master artistry comes to life.
The Disaster Artist may be the perfect weaving together of Franco's artistic integrity with a story that seems destined to also achieve box-office success.
I would love to tell you that Franco digs deeper and somehow humanizes one of contemporary cinema's most inexplicable icons. The film kicks off in the late 90's, Wiseau meeting up with soon to be roommate Greg Sestero (Franco's real life brother Dave) in a Shelton Studios acting class where the painfully inhibited Greg is left in awe of Tommy's balls to the walls, seizure salad rendition of a familiar Brando monologue. The two kinda sorta hit it off, though what passes as friendship is really never much more than two people just dysfunctional enough in all the right ways to make the relationship work ... at least until it doesn't anymore.
The story, based upon Sestero's book and co-penned by the writing team of Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer, The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now), isn't so much larger than life as it is odder than life. If you didn't know this was a true story, you'd likely find yourself criticizing the absurdity of it all. Franco has masterfully captured Wiseau's engorging self-absorption and Eastern European accent, though Wiseau never does fess up to his place of origin other than proclaiming it to be New Orleans. It's an intimate performance without any actual intimate revelations, a broad caricature with rich authenticity that manages to find Wiseau's humanity without actually revealing Wiseau's humanity.
How is that possible? Watch the film. You'll understand.
It's not long after Tommy and Greg meet that the two become best friends of sorts, or at least co-dependently connected as Tommy gives Greg a mentor of sorts who encourages even his wildest dreams while Greg gives Tommy some sort of cathartic human connection from what feels like a deep woundedness that is more than a little hinted at within the disjointed yet intriguing script for The Room. Wiseau's mystery is, rather refreshingly, never subjected to having the mask pulled off by Franco. Instead, it's that mystery that builds much of anticipation in the film despite the inevitability that many of those entering the theater to watch it will know the story of The Room. Where is Wiseau really from? Where does his money come from? How does he afford apartments in both San Francisco and L.A. AND bankroll a film himself? There's a deep mystery here, yet Franco's also wise enough to know that Wiseau as a mystery is an essential ingredient to enjoying and appreciating The Disaster Artist.
By the time we get to the actual filming of The Room, it's abundantly clear that neither Wiseau nor Greg have any business being near a movie set. Avoiding faux sympathy, The Disaster Artist doesn't minimize nor excuse Wiseau's disastrous filmmaking techniques that are minimally amateurish and, throughout much of the shoot, downright abusive to both cast and crew. A raging ball of insecurity whose set was fraught with division and tension, Wiseau demanded a loyalty he never earned and projected a relentless narcissism that was never warranted. The film's closing scenes of The Room's opening night screening are cinematic perfection, scenes that draw you into the nightmare and ecstasy of independent filmmaking.
The Disaster Artist is very much Franco's film, though it remains to be seen if Hollywood will embrace the challenge of playing such a vampiric oddball as being worthy of an Oscar nomination. Rest assured that Franco is worthy here, The Disaster Artist very likely being his best performance to date and one likely to always be associated with the actor. Dave Franco is a low-key gem as Greg, holding his own opposite Franco's odder than life performance without ever losing his presence. While Greg's hairpiece early in the film was ill-advised at best, Franco does a terrific job of portraying Greg's transformation from almost cultishly following Tommy to growing in self-confidence and independence. The film also features solid supporting turns by Ari Graynor, as LISA!, and Alison Brie as Amber among others. It's likely not surprising that The Disaster Artist also features a wealth of celeb cameos, though for the most part they avoid being a distraction.
Brandon Trost's lensing infuses the film with vibrance, fun and heart while also occasionally dipping into The Room's cinematic craziness, while original music by Dave Porter complements the film quite nicely.
The Disaster Artist is a film about a film or, at least, it's a film about the making of the film and the cult of personality that turned that otherwise disastrous film into an unexpected money maker once it hit the midnight screening circuit.
Yeah, folks. You have to remember - The Room has turned a profit.
Imperfectly perfect and seriously fun, The Disaster Artist is one of 2017's most satisfying comedic experiences yet it's also a film that satisfies emotionally and intellectually. Ed Wood would be so jealous.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic