THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir. by James Franco, 104 minutes, 2017, USA)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The best in “So Bad It’s Good” cinema usually has one thing in common. Invariably, the auteur at the helm — everyone from Ed Wood to Michael Bay — sincerely believed they were making the best film possible. You can’t fake that kind of sincere ineptitude and those that have tried usually fall short of the mark, with the ensuing film choking on its irony. The Room (2003), the subject of The Disaster Artist, is one of those rare films that was born of the purity of one man’s singular, yet utterly myposic vision. His name is Tommy Wiseau, a likable but misbegotten Hollywood wannabe who made a film about a man living the simple American life he wished he lived, surrounded by the friends he wished he had.
For those who have yet to see The Room, it chronicles is the story of Johnny (Wiseau) a successful banker who is about to marry Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who just happens to be cheating on him with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). As strange as it is bad, The Room was written, directed, paid for and stars the eccentric Wiseau who fully expected it to be his ticket to the big time. Filled with cheesy love ballads, stagnant dialog and some of the most awkward sex scenes committed to celluloid, The Room is a film that demands to be experienced on its own terms. Thanks to fans who embraced the film creating a Rocky Horror-like interactive experience around the oddity, almost 15 years later we are still throwing spoons at a screen and berating Lisa for cheating on our beloved Johnny.
The Disaster Artist is based on the memoir by Greg Sestero, one of the stars of The Room and a friend of Wiseau, and directed by James Franco, arguably one of the most underrated actor/directors working in Hollywood James Franco. If you have any doubts about this simply check out the savage Child of God or his ode to Cruising, and our infatuation with celebrity, Interior. Leather. Bar. It’s that connection of a fellow outsider artist that lends a sincerity to the film that would have simply turned into a parody in lesser hands. The story tackles the making of The Room with the heart of the story being the awkward friendship between Sestero and the strangely mysterious Wiseau. After striking out after moving to Hollywood to achieve their dream of becoming famous actors, the two decide to make their own film casting themselves in the leads with Wiseau financing the film’s six million dollar budget out of pocket.
Franco tackles the role of Wiseau head-on replicating his awkward mannerisms and heavy European accent with frightening accuracy. The only downside to this kind of committed performance is if you haven’t seen The Room, you’re probably not going realize how great this performance is or that Wiseau is in fact a REAL person. Franco manages to make the audience root for Wiseau rather than pity him as the drama on set and off nearly consumes the friendship between Sestero and Wiseau. This is also thanks to Dave Franco, brother of James, who turns in an equally compelling and sympathetic performance as Sestero — who’s book is a compelling cautionary tale for wouldbe directors. For those who’ve read the book, the film doesn’t stray off the path and shows a real affection for its subjects, while still managing to point out the absurdity of some of the key moments in Tommy’s troubled production.
It’s an underdog story that ultimately has the last laugh, given we’re watching James Franco recreate Tommy’s life for a film that has become the dark horse this awards season. It was a real risk that pays off for Franco, thanks to the obvious care taken with its unlikely subject, who even makes a very meta appearance post credits. If you haven’t seen The Room you might want to check out this Best Of The Worst before sitting down for The Disaster Artist, to better appreciate Franco’s performance and to assure yourself what you are watching is truly non-fiction. For Room devotees the film is a touching story of two friends, who ultimately made it, but not in the way they envisioned – in a sort of twisted Monkey’s Paw sort of way. That being said 15 years later here we are still watching and writing about the film’s impact and the fearless eccentric who directed, starred and funded it.