James Franco's ode to a schlock auteur and his 'so bad, it's good' flop
In 1998, aspiring actor Greg Sestero met another aspiring actor, Tommy Wiseau, in an acting class in San Francisco. Wiseau performed a bit of Stanley Kowalski from "A Streetcar Named Desire," and Sestero had never seen anything like Wiseau's raw anguish, unvarnished pain, chair-throwing abandon and complete lack of finesse.
Sestero later described Wiseau as resembling "one of the anonymous, Uzi-hugging goons who appeared for 2 seconds in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film before getting kicked off a catwalk."
Yet he had nerve, and he believed in his destiny. A friendship was born. The men moved to L.A. to crack the movies. Eventually a film was made: "The Room," written, produced, directed by and starring Wiseau as the hurtin' end of a romantic triangle. Sestero co-starred, and the film received an extraordinarily limited self-financed release in 2003.
Then an odd thing happened. "The Room," made in earnest but received in jest, turned into a midnight-movie hit. Word got around that Wiseau's travesty, as poorly written as it was poorly made and poorly acted, had the special sauce of a memorable bad movie. Wiseau became a celebrity after all. And now director James Franco has made "The Disaster Artist," a movie about the making of a flop/hit and a genial if strangely mild ode to dreamers and strivers everywhere.
The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber takes its cues from the book "The Disaster Artist," which Sestero co-wrote with Tom Bissell. If you've seen "The Room" (and, yes, you should), part of the payoff of Franco's film comes in the re-creations of scenes from the source.
Dave Franco, brother of James, plays Greg, the un-enigmatic opposite of Tommy. What fun there is in "The Disaster Artist" comes primarily from James Franco's version of Wiseau, the enigma of probable Polish extraction. He glides through the movie like a Zen master of brooding insecurity, getting all the key details right, from Wiseau's pronunciation of the name "Greg" ("Graayeauayaaaay," with a dying fall of an inflection) to his football throwing and catching skills (none).
Watching Tommy and Greg struggle, argue, make up, audition, film and finally complete their dream project, you're inevitably taken back to Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" (1994), a more comprehensive and infinitely wittier portrait in heartfelt ineptitude. That movie culminated in making-of vignettes exploring Wood's magnum opus, "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
"The Room" became an unofficial Plan 10, from a nearby corner of outer space.
Director Franco clearly adores his subject, and the cast brings an esprit de crud to the material, notably Ari Graynor (very good as a not-very-good-actress). Fans of "The Room" — they're everywhere — will get something out of it, though I'd argue not enough; director Franco's camera sense is neither quite in synch with Wiseau's (thank God) or quite distinct enough in its own style. Should newcomers to this particular cinematic phenomenon see "The Room" first? Yes. Seeing "The Disaster Artist" is less crucial to their camp education.
'THE DISASTER ARTIST'
MPAA rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)
Running time: 1:45