Movie Review: “The Disaster Artist” – Oh Hai Franco!

Written by Jeremiah Greville December 14, 2017

The Disaster Artist

There’s one non-Marvel movie that I’ve been looking forward to all year, and it’s not The Last Jedi. It’s a movie based on a book about one of the worst films of all time. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I read the book, and learned that it was optioned by none other than James Franco. I was intrigued when news came that Franco would direct and star — just like the mysterious auteur behind the original. And I was delighted when I got a chance to review it myself. The Disaster Artist is at last in theatres! For fans of The Room, this is a very big deal. Not only is it mainstream validation of a cult favourite that has to be seen to be believed, but it’s also an intimate look into the implacable mind and soul of Tommy Wiseau.

The Disaster Artist stars James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, the infamous writer, director, producer, financier, and star of 2003’s The Room. If you haven’t seen The Room, it’s worth watching with friends to understand just how bizarre, awful, and subsequently hilarious it truly is. It’s inspired midnight screenings around the world; spawned a book, flash game, and several internet parodies; and even given rise to ‘NO-SPOON POLICIES’ at independent theatres brave enough to hold showings (don’t ask!). The Disaster Artist tells the story of how that film came to be, as told by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who became close friends with Wiseau before starring together in the legendary film. James Franco also directs.

“Do you even want to be an actor?”

It’s uncommon, but not entirely rare, for movie casting to have meta-implications. Here, they form a significant part of the theme. Tommy sees Greg like a brother, so of course Franco’s real life brother Dave plays the role. Tommy sees Greg’s relationship as a serious threat, so Dave’s real-life wife, Allison Brie, is cast to play Greg’s girlfriend, Amber. The only real check on Tommy’s artistic authority in the film — his ‘equal’, if you will — is Sandy, his script supervisor. So of course, he’s played by Seth Rogan, Franco’s frequent collaborator and a star on his same level. The interesting thing about these casting decisions is that none of them are opaque. Their meaning is obvious. The implication, however, is that The Disaster Artist is as much about Franco — and by extension, the rest of us — as it is about the making of The Room.

The Disaster Artist

The fact that the movie opens with several celebrity talking heads discussing The Room underscores this point even further. The casting also allows the subject matter of The Disaster Artist to appear more realistic than the source material. James Franco is more classically handsome than Tommy Wiseau, while Dave Franco is generally less handsome than real-life “baby face” Greg Sestero. On this point, I’m sure, opinions may differ. But by softening the extremes, Franco gives the audience room to appreciate them outside of how they look. They’re not presented as two men at different ends of a beauty spectrum, but as friends with different strengths and weaknesses. Even the elder Franco’s higher star power fuels this underlying meta-narrative. Yes, his role is flashier than his brother’s, but demands more of him. The fact that he produces, directs, and stars simply adds to the part.

“Don’t be weird. Just do it.”

The cast of the film all do their best with their roles, but their performances only really stand out at the end of the film, when a series of lengthy comparisons showcase several painstaking scene-for-scene recreations of the original. Their performances are less about character than impersonation. They should be judged not for accuracy, but for the clear fun the actors have with them. From a narrative point of view, Dave Franco’s Greg is the main character, and his performance anchors the film in some sense of reality. Apart from the Franco brothers the only other standout in the film is Zac Efron as the unhinged Dan/Chris-R. But as I said before, it’s little more than an extensive impersonation. When it comes to acting, there’s only one star of The Disaster Artist.

The Disaster Artist

James Franco’s role as Tommy Wiseau is the selling point of the movie, and it doesn’t disappoint. As strange as it is throughout, it’s hard not to buy into it almost immediately. Franco not only fully inhabits the strange, unsettling atmosphere that Wiseau provokes, but fills that atmosphere with real vulnerability. Part of the enduring appeal of The Room is the mystery surrounding it’s creator, Wiseau. The Disaster Artist doesn’t spoil that mystery or try to solve it, but uses it to give Wiseau something long denied to him: humanity and credibility. Franco takes what could have been a caricature, and breathes truth and life into it. While the rest of the cast are playing characters based on real people, Franco alone is playing a real person based on a character. It’s an incredible and unsettling performance.

“You think I speak to ghosts?”

But honestly? Enough of this review chutzpa! The Disaster Artist is a great film, but it’s also a film where one of the most dramatic extended scenes has an actual cock-sock on display, and the other takes place over a game of ‘football’. It’s not your typical December Oscar-bait flick. It’s hilarious and moving, and even plays with the emotional response of the audience. It’ll make you laugh, then make you question why you laughed in the first place. This is a movie about art, and the sincere delusion behind creation. It’s about friendship and ambition and loneliness and perseverance. This is a movie about a strange man and a seriously strange film, and it marks an earnest and loving end to an era of underground cinema. It’s a tribute to good intentions and bad films, and an invitation for the uninitiated.

The Disaster Artist

The best way to prepare yourself for The Disaster Artist is by seeing The Room on the big screen. But even if you’ve never seen the film or read the book, The Disaster Artist is still worth a watch. James Franco’s otherworldly performance might seem unbelievable at first, until you make it to the end and realize — holy shit, this movie actually happened, and this man really exists. The film may be little more than a tribute, and the acting little more than impression, but the end result is still quite special. Everyone involved clearly appreciates Wiseau and The Room, even while putting their shortcomings on display. The Disaster Artist is a rare glimpse into turning failure into triumph, and is certainly one of the best films of the year.

My Rating: 8.5/10

The Disaster Artist

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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