THE DISASTER ARTIST
By Nathan Evans
In order to understand James Franco’s latest directorial endeavor, ‘The Disaster Artist’, it’s imperative that you first familiarize yourself with the subject of Franco’s film, a movie that’s widely considered the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies: ‘The Room’. Not ‘Room’, the Academy Award winning film starring Brie Larson, but ‘The Room’: a self financed, pseudo prestige picture written, produced, and starring a man named Tommy Wiseau.
Wiseau is something of a man of mystery. Appearance wise he’s sort of a cross between Count Dracula, a too old amateur bodybuilder, and Edgar from ‘Men in Black’; the bug-like alien in an ill fitting skin suit portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio. Nobody knows how old Wiseau actually is, where he’s actually from (he claims to be an all American guy from New Orleans, despite a thick, near incomprehensible eastern European accent), or where he got the more than six million dollars required to realize his infamous cinematic production. Any attempt to get answers to these questions from the man himself result in deflections and obvious lies the filmmaker sticks to vehemently.
Nearly as interesting as the man himself is his initial work: ‘The Room’. ‘The Room’ is a film about a man named Johnny and his future wife Lisa (it of course would be more economical to refer to Lisa as Johnny’s fiancé, but the film only ever refers to her as Johnny’s “future wife” and vice versa). Johnny is in love with Lisa, but Lisa (for reasons I still don’t understand) no longer wants to marry Johnny. Instead she has an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark, portrayed by Tommy’s real life best friend, and co-author of the book Franco’s film is based on, Greg Sestero. As the central love triangle plays out nonsensically in the foreground, the film also introduces several inconsequential plot lines both without setup or payoff that include a mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, a drug deal gone wrong with Johnny’s thirty year old adolescent friend, and even a surprise pregnancy announcement. It, of course, all culminates in Johnny’s eventual suicide at the realization of his friends’ betrayal. It’s objectively an awful film, so awful I advise you to stop reading this review immediately and watch it for yourself.
You’re back? Awful, right? On with the review.
James Franco’s film isn’t exclusively about ‘The Room’. The film concerns itself more with the friendship that powered the making of the film between Wiseau and Sestero. Franco himself portrays Wiseau and his brother Dave takes the role of Sestero. Dave’s Sestero is an aspiring actor and model desperate to move to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. When he meets Wiseau in an acting class, he’s taken in by the man’s mysterious aura and his inappropriate, balls to the wall approach to the craft of acting.
The pair strike up a fast friendship and quickly become roommates in L.A.. While Sestero finds some mild success, Wiseau (for obvious reasons) is left out in the cold. Jealous of Sestero’s luck and his burgeoning relationship with a lovely bartender portrayed by Dave Franco’s real life wife Alison Brie, Wiseau takes it upon himself to write his own script. With Sestero’s encouragement, Tommy proceeds to mount ‘The Room’ on his own mysterious dime. From there the film chronicles the inexplicable hijinks that actually took place on the set.
‘The Disaster Artist’ provides James Franco with the greatest performance of his career. Tommy Wiseau’s odd mannerisms and way of speaking are infamous in cult circles, and while Franco’s impersonation isn’t quite exact, he commits to it one hundred percent. As I watched the film I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’. Franco’s turn as Wiseau has the same method feel; the feeling of a performance that was lived in long before a camera started rolling. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Dave Franco as Sestero.
While Sestero is admittedly a less dynamic figure than Wiseau, and while the younger Franco does a serviceable job, the 5’7’’ Dave is simply miscast as the male model Wiseau lovingly dubbed “baby face”, both in ‘The Room’ as well as in real life. His shorter stature and familial resemblance to the elder Franco took me out of the film at some of its most intense scenes. It also served to make some of the homoerotic subtext within the film feel a bit incestuous. In one way this aspect helped to make some of the scenes even more hilarious, in others just more uncomfortable.
In hindsight I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In addition to the younger Franco’s miscasting, the film could’ve benefitted from a more definitive perspective. The book the film is based on follows Sestero’s point of view, while the movie splits time between both men before eventually giving way almost exclusively to Wiseau; skimming over important contextual details in their relationship. The increased focus on Wiseau as the filming of ‘The Room’ begins also causes the film to lose a bit of the steam generated by the pair’s relationship that propels the film’s first half.
Aside from those minor gripes the film shines due to its meta, ‘Inception’-like nature. The film is about the filming of another film, and is directed by a man as the man he’s playing, in a film about the man who made the film that the film’s about. This snake eating its own tail premise serves to make the film itself inherently hilarious before we even get to the first scene. Adding yet another shade, the film gets much of its supporting cast from the actors and actress that make up the popular podcast ‘How Did This Get Made’; a podcast that celebrates bad films that features hosts Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and June Diane Raphael (it’s one of my favorite shows).
It’s also clear over the course of the film that Franco has a real love and appreciation for the source material. As I stated earlier, ‘The Room’ is objectively awful, but it’s a film that bleeds ambition, misguided ambition, but ambition all the same. That same spirit crosses over into ‘The Disaster Artist’, so while the film has a good time poking fun at its subject, none of it ever feels malicious. In a way it’s a celebration of the dreams we all share and a chronicling of one man’s journey to realize his own.
There’s been a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding ‘The Disaster Artist’, specifically Franco’s performance. While I don’t think the film is quite that good, there’s no denying that the movie is almost experimentally ambitious. Between the celebrity endorsement interviews that open the film and the recreation of full scenes from ‘The Room’ that close it, it’s clear that Franco’s attempting to redefine what a movie about a movie can be. The result is a film that’s bizarre, intriguing, and one of the best comedies in a year that’s been lacking a good one.
RATING: A- -OR- 4.25 OUT OF 5
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