Greg (Dave Franco) is struggling his way through acting school. He’s impressed by his fellow student Tommy’s (James Franco) fearless, unorthodox approach to performing, and after a series of knockbacks, the pair decide to collaborate on a project that will go down in infamy as one of the greatest bad films ever made.
Based on Greg Sestero’s 2013 book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is a hilarious retelling of the making of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s notoriously awful magnum opus. While a familiarity with Wiseau’s film certainly enhances the experience, it’s certainly not necessary, and Franco’s aim is broader and richer than a simple spoof of a terrible movie. Crucially, The Disaster Artist is not about laughing at The Room, but rather, revelling in its baffling eccentricities while delving into the film and it creator’s otherworldly appeal.
One of the most surprising elements of The Disaster Artist its sensitive, even moving depiction of the dysfunctional friendship between two misfits and it seems fitting that it should be portrayed on screen by brothers. It’s been said that Sestero’s book paints him in a light more flattering than he perhaps deserves. Similarly, it’s certainly fair to say that Franco’s film portrays Wiseau as more a loveable crank than the sinister, unhinged figure that one suspects he cuts in real life. Nevertheless, there is a sense of Tommy’s fondness for Greg as well as the former’s pathological exploitation of everyone around him. While Tommy’s megalomania threatens to tear them apart, the one-sided friendship at the heart of The Disaster Artist is at once well-observed and painfully familiar.
Credit must go, too, to both Ari Graynor and Jackie Weaver, playing actresses Juliette and Carolyn, who played Lisa and Claudette in The Room. Not only do they recreate their counterparts’ performances to a tee, but also find time to invest their characters with a sympathetic bewilderment at the madness around them. Seth Rogen also makes a brief but memorable appearance as amused, bemused Director of Photographer Sandy.
The main attraction, of course, is James Franco’s near-faultless performance as Tommy. Following his ludicrous turn in Spring Breakers, this is surely the role Franco was born to play, made all the more fascinating by both his and Wiseau’s fixation on James Dean as a source of inspiration. While the lank locks of his black wig plaster themselves on his forehead, Franco nails Wiseau’s cock-eyed demeanour, running full-bore with Wiseau’s incomprehensible, surely-this-can’t-be-real accent. Meanwhile, Franco proves himself a dab hand at comic direction, with Wiseau’s signature scene – “I did not hit her, it’s not true, it’s bullshit, I did not hit her, I did naaahhht. Oh, hi Mark.” – recreated with such perfection (and affection) that no amount of repetition can dampen its bizarre impact.
The Disaster Artist is arguably the most unlikely film about film-making in recent memory. Based on a cult classic famous only because of its awfulness, Franco constructs a compelling study co-dependent, dysfunctional friendships, misguided self-belief and egomania, spun with an affectionately cheeky irreverence, resulting in one of the best comedies of the year.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell