Leave it to James Franco to find inspiration for a smart screen comedy from the shambles of perhaps the worst movie ever made.
That is exactly what he has done with The Disaster Artist, a good-natured tribute in some ways to the godawful 2003 “drama” The Room. As I say in my video review above, this is not to be confused with the recent Brie Larson Oscar winner Room. Far from it, in fact about as far as it is possible to get from it.
Based on the book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist tells the story of Sestero’s friendship with Tommy Wiseau and how they came to Hollywood and set out to make Wiseau’s dream project, which he wrote, directed, starred in and financed to the tune of millions. Despite Sunset Strip billboards, it was an unmitigated disaster that turned into a cult sensation that still plays at midnight shows. The story of how it all came about became the basis for the book and now Franco’s movie, which focuses on their friendship as much as it does on the creation of The Room (now an LOL comedy).
Franco stars as Wiseau, and works with his brother Dave Franco (for the first time) in the role of Sestero. The pair met in an acting class, where we get to see Wiseau doing his best Brando in a cringe-inducing scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. They teamed up and headed for L.A., where stardom didn’t await. Much of the film depicts the making of the movie-within-a-movie and shows Wiseau to be an arrogant, ranting, completely misguided “artist” of the first order. But somehow Franco doesn’t turn what easily could have been a caricature into something pandering for laughs. It is a three-dimensional performance while at the same time being a dead-on impression of the real Wiseau in all of his broken-English-accented glory.
Dave Franco plays it all for real and succeeds with a first-rate, even touching turn as Sestero, who clearly understood Wiseau better than the outside world. It almost plays like a modern-day Midnight Cowboy, with these two living on the fringe but connecting in ways that we might not have imagined. But The Disaster Artist will be compared more easily with Tim Burton’s wonderful Ed Wood, about a similarly clueless would-be Orson Welles who succeeded in making Plan 9 from Outer Space, another indescribably bad movie-turned-cult sensation. Like that one, Franco’s film touches on the mysteries of the creative process, even if that process is more akin to a train wreck.
Among the cast in this version of The Room are Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron and Ari Graynor, all doing yeoman-like work while being in on the joke. Seth Rogen, Franco’s friend and one of the film’s producers, turns up as a crew member. Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, Sharon Stone, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Cranston and Danny McBride are others who show up here and there in various scenes. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have written a terrific adaptation of the Sestero book that never goes for the easy joke but always is aware this is first and foremost a human comedy.
Producers are Franco, Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Vince Jollivette and James Weaver. A24 takes the New Line/Warner Bros production into release on Friday.
Do you plan to see The Disaster Artist? Let us know what you think.