The Disaster Artist
James Franco's tragicomic celebration of the making of the worst film ever made
It’s difficult to articulate the conflicting emotions one feels while watching The Room, the staggeringly terrible magnum opus by Tommy Wiseau. Made in 2003, it’s an astonishing piece of anti-art. Many have intentionally tried to create a bad movie (see the makers of the interminable Sharknado films), but it takes a true lack of talent combined with a staggering self-belief to create something this sincerely awful. Its love triangle plot plays like a series of non-sequiturs, while its wooden actors are prone to wild mood swings from scene to scene. Wiseau himself, playing the film’s cuckold hero, makes for the most unconvincing romantic leads in the history of the movies.
How did this bizarre film get made? The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s new biopic following Wiseau, attempts to give us the answer. The film is told through the eyes of model and wannabe actor Greg Sestero (played by Franco’s kid brother Dave), who first meets Wiseau (James Franco) at an acting class in San Francisco, and soon moves with him to LA to have a crack at Hollywood and later co-stars with Wiseau in The Room.
They make a strange double act – like most of Franco’s previous comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Interview), The Disaster Artist is basically an odd-couple bromance. Sestero is pretty in a bland, soap actor kind of way, but not all that confident. The film opens with him sweating profusely while timidly performing a scene from Waiting for Godot before his acting coach (Melanie Griffith, in the first of many celebrity cameos) puts him out of his misery and tells him to leave the stage; she's looking for uninhibited performers. Step forward Wiseau. He essays his demented take on Stanley Kowalski (well, he rolls on the floor caterwauling “Stella…”) with unabashed gusto, and so begins the start of a bizarre friendship as Wiseau takes the faint-hearted Sestero under his acting wing.
“Tommy wants his own planet,” Wiseau tells his new BFF in third person, and Franco’s film makes a good stab at welcoming us into this strange place. It’s a world where Death of a Salesman is a comedy, the story of a woman being beaten is greeted with a heartly chuckle and references to Home Alone are met with confusion (“I was home alone too, Greg”).
It’s also a place where a man who’s clearly in his 40s tells people he’s a 20-year-old and the same man claims he’s an all-American boy from New Orleans despite sounding like a count from Transylvania. Franco is clearly having a whale of a time as this wild fantasist, and if you’re familiar with Wiseau’s punch-drunk accent, bizarre mannerisms and dada laugh, you’ll realise it’s an august piece of mimicry (the clips from The Room that play as a coda to The Disaster Artist confirm the veracity).
Much of the film takes place on The Room’s shambolic set. Among the many familiar faces we see during the shoot is Seth Rogen as The Room’s script supervisor, and he's also the audience proxy as a voice of sanity. It’s he who asks the questions everyone who has watch The Room has asked themselves. Questions like why was Wiseau driven to make this unintentionally surreal melodrama? Why does it seem this writer-director-star has never seen a film before? And where did he get the millions of dollars to make this monstrosity?
To The Disaster Artist's detriment, we don't learn what drives this strange and incompetent auteur. It seems Franco is having too much fun to dig very deep into Wiseau’s mysterious motivations and background, but he should have shown more rigor when it came to exploring his darker side: the misogyny, the paranoia and the manipulation.
Despite this lack of depth, The Disaster Artist is sure to go down well with the hipsters who have cemented The Room’s status as the greatest bad movie since Plan 9 from Outer Space and turned it into a phenomenon by cackling along to the film’s badness at smug hate-watching sessions. What makes The Disaster Artist more palatable than those cruel cult screenings, however, is that Franco has clear affection for his subject.
It's easy to guess why Franco might see Wiseau as a kindred spirit. After all, as a renaissance man of limited talent, Franco himself has made a fair number of terrible movies in earnest, and unlike The Room, cult status isn’t likely to resurrect stinkers like Child of God or As I Lay Dying any time soon. The Disaster Artist, therefore, not only venerates Wiseau but it's a shot in the arm to Franco’s lackluster directing career too. The takeaway for Franco should be clear: leave Wiseau to make the tortured melodramas, and he should stick to the comedy.
Released by Warner Bros