Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James Franco
Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Sharon Stone, Josh Hutcherson, Paul Scheer, Ari Graynor, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Burress, Bob Odenkirk, Randall Park, Zoey Deutch.
As with Tim Burton’s glorious biopic about trashy filmmaker Ed Wood, The Disaster Artist is an affectionate look at a deluded filmmaker and a thoroughly entertaining look at the making of a bad and unintentionally hilarious movie.
Tommy Wiseau’s self-funded 2003 vanity project The Room is up there with Ed Wood’s terrible and much maligned Plan 9 From Outer Space, and is widely regarded as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” The enigmatic Wiseau wrote, directed and starred in the film, and he also self-financed the film, providing the $6million dollar budget himself. The film flopped badly, making only $1800 in its first week of release. The delusional Wiseau ensured that the film had a two-week run in two cinemas in Los Angeles, in the hope that it would qualify for Oscar consideration.
However, it has since developed a cult following, and found an appreciative audience through regular late-night screenings, where audiences turn up and shout lines of dialogue at the screen, throw spoons at the screen, and get into the vibe of the awful dialogue and bad acting. Experiencing a late-night screening of The Room with such an audience is an immersive experience that adds to the enjoyment of the film.
Now we get The Disaster Artist, which deconstructs that awful film and that looks at the story behind the making of The Room. This deliciously entertaining and very funny behind the scenes look at the making of The Room is something of a passion project for star and director James Franco. It is based on the 2013 book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, written by Greg Sestero, who starred in the film. The incisive screenplay has been written by Scott Neustadt and Michael H Weber (both of whom collaborated on the young adult weepie The Fault In Our Stars, etc). This is a study of ambition, the creative process, and artistic hubris. The Disaster Artist gives us some insights into Wiseau’s enigmatic but driven personality, but it also explores the strange, odd couple dynamic between him and Sestero. It hints that Wiseau’s interest in the younger Sestero may have been a little more than purely professional, but doesn’t really follow through with this homoerotic angle.
Wiseau (played by Franco) is an enigmatic character, and he gives little away about his origins or his age or the source of his wealth. He first met aspiring handsome young actor Greg Sestero (played here by Franco’s younger brother Dave Franco) at acting school in San Francisco in 1988. Soon after they head off to Los Angeles to follow their dream, with Wiseau promising the impressionable Sestero a big future in the movies. But things do not happen for them immediately. Greg lands an agent but finds very little in the way of offers. Meanwhile, Wiseau is humiliated and his thick accent mocked.
Out of frustration and with delusions of grandeur, Wiseau proposes making his own movie. Thus, he begins to write the deeply personal movie, a bizarre melodrama about “the human condition” that would become The Room. He assembles a cast of largely unknown performers and hires a crew to help shoot the film. But soon the production becomes a train wreck, with Wiseau’s ego and outlandish behaviour running wild on the set. It is clear that he has little talent on either side of the camera and has no idea about how to make a film. And none of the cast or crew really have any idea what the film is actually about either. They just recognise that it is awful.
This is easily one of Franco’s best performances with a note perfect take on the eccentric Wiseau. Franco has played up all of Wiseau’s eccentricities and the incompetence of the filmmaking process for the purposes of entertainment. He hams it up wonderfully as the hapless auteur, capturing Wiseau’s strange accent, his mannerisms, his vampiric look, and his demanding approach, and he also manages to capture his horrible performance style. He brings out his flawed personality beautifully. But he suffuses his performance with a slightly menacing quality and hint of paranoia that make him seem almost megalomaniacal. Dave Franco offers a nice contrast with his performance as the wide-eyed, optimistic and more reserved Sestero. This is the first time the pair have worked together on a film, and they quickly establish a strong chemistry.
Seth Rogen plays it essentially straight and reins in his usual over the top style as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor who is nonplussed by Wiseau’s less than professional approach to filmmaking, and queries whether Tommy has even seen a movie let alone made one. Paul Scheer is good as Peter, the bemused cinematographer, while Australia’s Jacki Weaver has a small role as an actress playing a psychologist in the film. There are brief cameos from the likes of Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Sharon Stone, Josh Hutcherson, and even Wiseau and Sestero themselves, that add to the flavour of the piece. It seems like Franco has called in favours from his mates.
Franco ensures that many of the film’s most quotable lines are replicated here. He also faithfully restages many scenes from the film with uncanny accuracy, including the excruciating sex scene. Hang around after the final credits, as Franco juxtaposes scenes from the actual The Room with his shot by shot recreations, and you can appreciate the wonderful production design and attention to detail. Even some of the casting choices feel close to the original.
The Disaster Artist is genuinely funny stuff, with plenty of laugh out loud moments. You would probably get more out of this film if you have seen the original. This thoroughly enjoyable experience is far superior to the cult film that inspired it.