Franco finds treasure in the glorious mess of The Room

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Disaster Artist
Opens friday 8

3.5 out of 5

James Franco doesn’t quite turn The Disaster Artist into a triumph of the human spirit — I mean, the outcome is The Room — but damned if he doesn’t come close.

The Disaster Artist is about Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 indie drama The Room — the film that dethroned Plan 9 From Outer Space to become an apex achievement in unintended comedy. Released in 2003, The Room became a cult classic over a decade ago and it continues to  delight midnight movie audiences, Rocky Horror-style, today.

Making a movie about this bad movie is The Disaster Artist’s challenge: since the subject is already laughable, how can you top it? And can anyone impersonate The Room’s peculiar star/writer/director without turning him into a cartoon?

The answer is: sort of. Franco taps into Wiseau’s resilience and sheer force of will, making them the double-edge sword that puts him in a position to make a movie, then turns him into a clueless tyrant.

The Disaster Artist approaches the figure of Tommy sideways, through his sidekick (and the author of the book that inspired the movie), Greg Sestero. Originally struggling actors from San Francisco, Wiseau (James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco) decide to try their luck in Los Angeles. Never mind that Tommy looks 40 and weird — in his head, he’s a 20-something from New Orleans. Greg, meanwhile has an overbearing mother he’s only too happy to escape, and this seems like a perfect opportunity.

After a number of discouraging experiences, Wiseau’s need to be the hero drives him to make his own movie despite being a terrible actor, writer and director.

Pulling double duty as director and actor, James Franco blows away expectations (his previous efforts behind the camera could be generously depicted as ‘trying’). As Wiseau, Franco finds the man behind the caricature, a deeply insecure go-getter with an unshakeable belief in reinvention. There’s an unspoken kinship between two filmmakers known for trying too hard. Dave Franco as Greg is the audience surrogate, brimming with naiveté and eager as a puppy.

The many recognizable actors playing themselves (Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff) or members of the Wiseau crew (Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson) gets distracting. But since the story’s based on bizarre real events, suspension of disbelief isn’t needed. As for the film-within-the-film, the production of The Room is recreated down to the smallest detail and gives us an idea where the $6 million budget went (hint: Tommy isn’t the most disciplined filmmaker).

Franco even finds some nuggets of wisdom in the Tommy saga: one should aspire to be the hero of one’s own life, otherwise, what’s the point?

It’s not perfect. The Disaster Artist doesn’t ask pressing questions about Wiseau, like ‘where does his money come from?’ Instead, it takes the easy way out and focuses on Greg and Tommy’s friendship. Wiseau is strange, difficult and prone to outbursts, and Greg enables him for longer than anyone would expect. The film (like The Room itself) hints at a history of betrayal that would explain Tommy’s behaviour, but it doesn’t dig further.

While the movie is fun, a little too much material goes unexplored. There’s another, maybe better tale under this story.

In any case, The Disaster Artist should be taught in film schools. Someone needs to show tomorrow’s Wiseaus how to make movies.

Well, how not to make them, anyway.