Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: December 8th
In a word, The Disaster Artist is unbelievable. The particular details of its narrative are so bizarre, so strange, so ridiculous, that you couldn’t make it up – and if you could, you might just be Tommy Wiseau himself. Drawing on the memoir by the same name by Greg Sestero, James Franco’s latest – and greatest – directorial outing is a deeply affectionate and absolutely hilarious chronicle of two men chasing the American Dream and finding it in the most unexpected way.
When Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets the mysterious and eccentric Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) at an acting class, the two become fast friends and move to Los Angeles together. Tommy’s acting career is slow to take off, so he takes matters into his own hands by writing, directing and producing his own movie, The Room. Despite Tommy’s egotistical ineptitude plaguing the film’s production, the campy, incomprehensible final result becomes a cult hit. The rest, as they say, is history.
Do you need to see The Room before watching The Disaster Artist, you ask? It’s not strictly necessary, but the playful referentiality of the latter means you might enjoy going from one to another. You should at least have a sense of how weird and bad The Room is, going in. There’s probably a ‘best-of’ compilation you could watch to get the gist. But fans of The Room will enjoy this on another level than newbies to Sestero and Wiseau’s story. The Disaster Artist relishes the opportunity to reference The Room‘s best-known scenes, dialogue, and details, giving them funny micro-origin stories. The football, the sex scenes, Mark’s sudden clean-shaven appearance, and the film’s most iconic lines, ‘oh hi Mark’ and ‘you’re tearing me apart Lisa’ are all gleefully highlighted and beautifully woven into the diegetic and extra-diegetic levels of the film.
Yet, this film does more than just check references off a list. It’s a genuinely compelling and frequently very funny story about friendship and self-belief. And the secret to The Disaster Artist’s success is its empathetic portrayal of Tommy Wiseau. While Wiseau’s problematic behaviour is fairly called out, the film never makes him the villain that LA casting agents, The Room crew, and even Greg at times, envision him as. The film is better for the genuine earnestness and eagerness with which it credits Tommy; and it makes sense that James Franco, himself often derided as a director with notions above his station, was drawn to adapt this project, and to cast himself in the role of an eccentric auteur.
Franco is wonderful, nailing Tommy’s mumbling accented speech and languid movement that contrasts so sharply with his exuberant performance style. The supporting cast is stacked with fine comic actors – Seth Rogen is particularly good as Sandy, the beleaguered script supervisor-turned-defacto-director. Those portraying the cast of The Room, including Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, and Nathan Fielder, come off as suitably befuddled. However, Jacki Weaver is such a good actress that her character’s nonchalant announcement of her breast cancer diagnosis almost comes off as somewhat considered. (Maybe you would be nonchalant, I thought, as a form of denial? Jacki Weaver made me believe that character would have delivered that news so flippantly.)
Finally, Dave Franco co-starring alongside his real-life brother as Greg contributes to the good humour of this endeavor. The pair play off their natural fraternal chemistry to make the relationship between Greg and Tommy believable and surprisingly touching. A scene in which the pair drive around singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ staggeringly out of tune encapsulates how inversely proportional their talent is to their enthusiasm – as well as how much fun we’re going to have watching them.
Thankfully, The Disaster Artist has at least as much talent as enthusiasm, with technical competency and script structure to boot. Funny, warm, and uplifting, it might be the feel-good hit of the winter. It’s a high mark from me.