Directed By: James Franco
Release Date: December 1, 2017
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor
I'm going to keep this simple. James Franco's The Disaster Artist is one of my favorite movies of 2017. An adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell's book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, its story chronicles the real-life events surrounding how Sestero met Tommy Wiseau, the tipsy-turny friendship that followed, and, of course, the eventual production of Wiseau's The Room, a film so bad that it's managed to sidestep simply fading into obscurity and transcend into something of legend, a curiosity among a legion of fans who still turn out in droves to attend screenings and know every line of dialogue by heart.
The Room is an anomaly, one whose infamous production is just as fascinating to hear retold as cracking open the enigma that is Wiseau is, and Franco and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are all acutely aware of this. The Disaster Artist could have easily been made for a very specific crowd, pandering solely to fans who have seen The Room or treating the whole thing as a joke, but those involved ensure that everybody feels welcome here. You need not have seen The Room or know anything about Wiseau going in to appreciate what's on display in The Disaster Artist, though certainly lacking that knowledge will make one wonder how such a story and human being can actually exist, and that's what helps make the whole endeavor more successful than it had any right to be.
This is a story about dreamers. In 1998, a teenage Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) watched Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) drop an off-putting bomb of a performance on their acting class only to ask him afterwards to perform a scene with him. From there, the two develop a friendship that brings them to Los Angeles to chase their dreams of making it big. It doesn't take long for things to start falling into place in Greg's life, getting an agent and a girlfriend and putting his nose to the grindstone, but for Wiseau, with his indiscernible accent and generally weird behavior, nothing goes right. In time, though, Greg learns how rough Hollywood can be, and when both men are at their lowest, Wiseau takes to heart an idea Greg throws out: To take charge of their own fate by making a movie of their own. And thus The Room was born, the production of which tests the limits of the two men's friendship and the sanity of everyone else who gets sucked into its orbit.
To be fair, The Disaster Artist tiptoes around some of the darker aspects of the story its telling for the sake of being a little more optimistic, more often than not backing away completely from diving into truly strange territory. When Greg met Wiseau, for instance, Greg was 19, while Wiseau - clearly far older - always claims to be Greg's age. Wiseau calls Greg "Babyface" and convinces him to move to Los Angeles with him, and while this concerning issue is touched upon through Greg's mother (played by Megan Mullally) desperately trying to talk Greg out of uprooting his life on the insistence of a strange man he'd only just met, it's never really played up again as anything more than a peculiar joke. Wiseau gets jealous of Greg's successes and often reacts like something akin to a scorned lover, such as when Greg decides to move out to be with girlfriend, but whether it's because Wiseau is simply overly-attached and envious or because of something far deeper is left up to the viewer rather than attempting to provide any concrete explanation.
Instead, Franco pulls back to keep the film from ever becoming mean-spirited, especially where Wiseau himself is concerned. Rather than dissect Greg’s inherently bizarre relationship with this grown man who repeatedly claims to be younger than he is, has a seemingly bottomless pit of money at his disposal, and insists he's from New Orleans despite his heavy accent standing as Exhibit A why that's clearly a lie, Franco keeps the focus on how, at the end of the day, their friendship was based on pushing one another to succeed, whether it's in following their dreams to Los Angeles or making The Room or simply emotionally overcoming the reception the film ultimately gets.
That's not to say that Wiseau is presented as a squeaky clean figure, though. Franco, who portrays every mannerism and delivers every bit of dialogue with spot-on perfection - and undoubtedly deserves awards recognition for his performance here - posits Wiseau as both the villain and the hero of his own story. Wiseau desperately wants to be liked, but doesn't understand why he isn't, and there's almost a childlike quality to him that's as unsettling as it is endearing. He has an ego that blinds and often cripples him that he can't see, even going so far as to constantly terrorize everyone on the set of The Room, but he also has a boundless optimism that's both infectious and destructive, capable of roping others into his world with ease and strangling them just as quickly. We never learn exactly who he is - the film never answers where he's actually from or what the source of his money is, for example - but that's okay, because Wiseau is very much a mystery, a cult of personality that no one can put a finger on in the real world, and Franco effortlessly captures that idea both in front of and behind the camera.
At the heart of the film, however, is Greg, and Dave Franco has - just from a story perspective - the unenviable task of playing the straight man to such a larger than life figure. His work here is solid but unremarkable, which actually speaks to the character himself, as Greg's own opportunities were seemingly snuffed out by his friend, forcing him to lose interest in chasing the dreams he started off so passionate about. Unfortunately, Wiseau, as played by Franco, is such a dominating and electric presence that Greg often feels overshadowed, the character shortchanged in his own story, and as such it feels as though the character's real importance, particularly in terms of what the film really has to say about Wiseau, may go underappreciated.
Beyond its two leads, the film is packed with familiar faces in supporting roles, including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, and Paul Scheer, to cameos from Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, and countless others, and when the film actually begins to focus on The Room’s production, it's quite amazing how much effort is put into ensuring that everything from line delivery to costuming to camerawork is as close to an accurate recreation as it all can be. Fans of The Room will certainly be pleased by the extreme attention to detail The Disaster Artist has, while anyone out of the loop, so to speak, will be astounded that it's a real thing, particularly when the recreated scenes are shown side-by-side with the actual scenes once the film is over.
In the end, The Disaster Artist feels like a film that's pulling its punches without coming off as though it's not punching at all. In its efforts to convey such a wild story in under two hours, a lot of liberties are taken in order to streamline the whole thing, but what makes it so easy to overlook what the film fails to do - such as, as I mentioned earlier, exploring the darker undertones of Greg and Wiseau's relationship - is that it loads up on heart. It treats Wiseau, The Room, and everything around it all not with absolute reverence but with admiration for what it's become, reminding us all that, more often than not, it's worth trying and failing than not trying at all. Few films in recent years have had me smiling from beginning to end, but The Disaster Artist accomplished just that, and I couldn't recommend it enough.
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