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Josh Reviews The Disaster Artist

December 25th, 2017
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James Franco’s The Disaster Artist chronicles the making of The Room, the 2003 film that is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.  The Disaster Artist is based on Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book of the same name, which depicts the unlikely friendship between the young Sestero and the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, who would up bankrolling, directing, and starring in The Room, in which Mr. Sestero played a lead part.  The Room was a disastrous flop upon release; showing in one single theatre in L.A. for two weeks.  But gradually, word of mouth began to spread (aided, perhaps, by Mr. Wiseau’s decision to continue paying for the film’s one prominent billboard, featuring a now iconic close-up of his face, for five years!), and eventually the film gained a cult following and became beloved among a certain cadre of fans despite, or perhaps because of, its being so bad.

It’s incredible to me that, a decade after The Room was first screened, there is now a big-budget Hollywood movie telling the behind-the-scenes story of that film’s creation!  But here we are.  James Franco and his team have treated Mr. Wiseau and Mr. Sestero and The Room in a similar manner to how Tim Burton treated Ed Wood in his film of the same name.  There’s no doubt that The Disaster Artist presents Tommy Wiseau as something of a punchline.  If I was Mr. Wiseau, I would not be thrilled with this depiction.  But the film also has a lot of tenderness for Mr. Wiseau and Mr. Sestero, and for anyone who sets out to create art.

I suppose it could be argued that Mr. Wiseau and Mr. Sestero were more interested in becoming stars than in making art.  Those two things are quite different from one another.  But I think a large part of why The Disaster Artist works as well as it does is because of the way the film pulls you into rooting for these weirdos, these outsiders.  Anyone who has ever felt the desire to create art, who has ever felt like an outsider looking in, will find a lot to engage with in this film.

The film is also very, very funny.  Mr. Franco has assembled an incredible cast, and he gives everyone room to shine.

Let’s start with Mr. Franco himself, who is wonderful and hilarious as Tommy Wiseau.  Underneath some subtle prosthetics and an amazing wig (at least, I assume it’s a wig!), Mr. Franco has utterly morphed into Mr. Wiseau.  And then he opens his mouth!  Mr. Franco has done a fantastic job at capturing Mr. Wiseau’s bizarre, unique, unidentifiable accent.  This is an incredible transformation.  But as with the film as a whole, Mr. Franco avoids turning his performance as Mr. Wiseau into a one-dimensional punchline.  Mr. Franco has created a real character here, as outlandish as it may be.  The film maintains Mr. Wiseau’s enigmatic nature, as it should.  We’re never able to quite get a bead on this guy.  But the film also allows us to see him as more than just the hair and the weird accent.

Mr. Franco has cast his brother, Dave Franco, in the secondary lead role as Greg Sestero.  Mr. Sestero is presented as the audience surrogate character, the every-man who takes us into the story.  The film wisely allows us to see Tommy Wiseau through Greg’s eyes, which helps us to identify with Tommy (or, at least, to not completely dismiss him as a joke).  Dave Franco’s good looks and wide grin make Greg an affable guide through this tale.  One could argue that Greg is as bizarre as Tommy, just less outwardly so, and that Greg would go along with everything that goes down in this film, and the making of The Room, might raise one’s eyebrows.  But Dave Franco makes it all work and brings the character to life, showing us Greg’s rough edges while still allowing him to feel like the normal guy who we are following through all this weirdness.  I believe this is the first time that James and Dave Franco have appeared on screen in a movie together, and they are fantastic together.  Their chemistry is phenomenal, and the way they are able to sell the unlikely friendship between Tommy and Greg helps to anchor the movie.  I hope they will work together again soon.

Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community, The Five-Year Engagement), Megan Mullally (Will and Grace), Hannibal Buress (who recently popped up as Peter Parker’s gym teacher in Spider-Man: Homecoming), Jason Mantzoukas (who I have recently been enjoying in a great recurring guest-star role on Brooklyn 99 as Rosa Diaz’s crazy boyfriend/fiance), Paul Scheer (Ant Man), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Zac Effron, Sharon Stone, and Melanie Griffith all have great roles in the film and are all so funny.

James Franco has always been a great comedic actor.  I have been a fan of his since Freaks and Geeks!  But I am impressed at what a talent he has become behind the camera as well.   Mr. Franco has a long list of director credits on imdb, though I believe The Disaster Artist is the first non-documentary feature-film that he has directed.  This film does not at all feel like the work of a first-time director.  It feels as skillfully crafted as so many of the other comedic films in which Mr. Franco has appeared, films that were directed by more seasoned comedic hands.

The Disaster Artist mines a lot of joy from recreating iconic moments from The Room.  There were many times during the film in which I heard many members of the theatre audience murmur with pleasure when a familiar beat from The Room came up.  Over the end credits, Mr. Franco has juxtaposed several scenes from The Room with his team’s recreations of them.  It’s a hoot.

But there is far more to The Disaster Artist than just a slavish (and lavish!) recreation of a famous bad movie.  The Disaster Artist asks some deep questions at the same time as it is a deeply pleasurable comedic concoction.  Is Tommy Wiseau a hero or a villain?  Is his stubbornness to write, direct, and star in his own movie an act of believe-in-yourself heroism or incredible hubris?  Just how stubborn and alienating is a successful director required to be in order to realize his artistic vision?  These are profound questions that Mr. Franco (working from a great script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who adapted the book) has incorporated into his film, while never taking his eye off the ball of crafting a crowd-pleasing film that would be funny and compelling.

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed The Disaster Artist!  Bravo to Mr. Franco and his collaborators.

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